The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are working together on a new strategic initiative aimed at increasing security at aviation checkpoints while making the traveler’s experience easier and more convenient.

The ultimate desire is for checkpoints–in aviation and other transportation systems–to move away from the current standalone screening systems to more integrated suites that can adjust detection capabilities based on risk levels.

Concept of future aviation security checkpoint. Image: DHS S&T
Concept of future aviation security checkpoint. Image: DHS S&T

“Knowing that terrorists will seek out new ways to defeat our security measures, TSA demands a checkpoint that is capable of near instantaneous response to new threats and is impervious to terrorists’ attempts to discover vulnerabilities,” S&T says in notice announcing plans for a June 15 Industry Day in Washington, D.C., to outline the project. “The days of constantly changing instructions for passengers and new standalone equipment and new screener protocols will be a thing of the past. Using the next generation Security Technology Integrated Program (STIP) infrastructure and building upon TSA’s Risk Based Security initiative, the security posture of checkpoint will be dynamically configurable.”

The STIP infrastructure, for which General Dynamics [GD] is the prime contractor, is an information technology program that links TSA’s screening equipment to enable two-way information exchange, to include remote monitoring and maintenance. S&T and TSA will use the upcoming outreach session to gather input and ideas from all stakeholders for use by S&T’s Explosives Division to create “investment plans for checkpoint technologies and architectures,” according to the announcement.

The Screening at Speed project, a new Apex program that will be overseen by S&T, is “specifically focusing on developing the technologies and framework for an Aviation Checkpoint of the Future that detects smaller threats more reliably and is capable of distinguishing potential homemade explosive threats from common items carried by travelers,” according a description of the checkpoint project on S&T’s website.

Apex programs are visionary projects that attempt to tackle homeland security challenges strategically. The programs are managed by S&T with partnerships with relevant stakeholders in DHS.

Currently, S&T is overseeing two other Apex programs, one with Customs and Border Protection called Air Entry/Exit Re-Engineering to look at ways to improve the screening of foreign nationals entering the United States and confirm their departure.  The other is the Next Generation First Responder program that “seeks to develop a scalable and modular ensemble that includes an enhanced duty uniform, personal protective equipment, wearable computing and sensing technology, and robust voice and data communication networks” for first responders, S&T says.

To screen at speed at the future checkpoint, DHS would like for travelers to have the convenience of not divesting clothing, items in pockets, or have to remove their shoes and laptops while basically walking through the checkpoint with little interruption.

“S&T envisions a future where passengers approach the checkpoint and place their carry-on items on a conveyer belt leading to an enhanced X-ray device with automatic threat recognition software,” S&T says on the Apex site. “Passengers walk through a screening portal without having to take off their shoes or coats or remove their laptops and liquids from their bags. If the screening portal identifies a potential threat on a passenger or with a carry-on item, a non-invasive, secondary inspection may be required.”