Most Americans know that all checked luggage is required to go through screening before it goes onto the plane, but what happens behind the scenes? One of two types of screening systems are being used at airports across the country. “Stand-alone” inspection systems can often be found in the public lobby of an airport terminal near the airline check-in counters—although they are sometimes installed in locations outside of public view. These labor-intensive systems are typically used in small airports or in specific zones with low baggage volumes.
“In-Line” inspection systems, unlike their stand-alone counterparts, use heavily automated networks of Explosive Detection Systems (EDS) able to handle thousands of bags each hour at busy airports. More than half of the 2 million people that fly each day go through airports with in-line baggage screening systems.
These systems use conveyor belts to automatically screen, sort, and track baggage. Multiple EDS machines are linked to a centralized control room and several “resolution rooms.” When a bag triggers an alarm, the bag’s image is transmitted to the resolution room where trained officers determine whether a physical inspection is warranted.
If a physical inspection is required, the bag is routed via conveyor belt to an inspection area where TSA officers screen the contents of the bag while under constant supervision by closed circuit TV. A notice is placed inside each bag that is physically examined indicating an inspection took place. If there’s a problem afterward, the CCTV footage can be used to determine if a particular bag was indeed hand-searched and by whom. Once an alarm is resolved, the bag is placed back on the conveyor belt and sent on its way to the plane.
Other benefits of this technology: since the in-line system is heavily automated, the number of physical injuries sustained by officers due to lifting baggage is reduced, TSA can track each and every bag throughout the process.