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Airport Screener

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Airport security personnel are faced with the daunting task of keeping dangerous items off commercial airplanes. They must make split-second decisions that can impact the lives of every person on every flight. Do you have what it takes to do their job? If so, get ready to take off on your challenge of being an airport screener.

Planning and Carrying Out Investigations

Airport Screener Brochure

Airport Screener Brochure

What are some of the prohibited items not allowed in commercial airlines' carry-on luggage?

Some prohibited items of carry-on luggage include ammunition, explosives, flammable liquids, and chemicals. These items are prohibited to keep passengers safe and minimize the danger of an explosion on the plane. Less dangerous items like snow globes, gel candles, and food like maple syrup or salsa can also be banned from carry-on luggage.

Why is the size of liquid containers on flights limited?

Liquid containers can only be contained in a 3.4 ounce (100mL) bottle or less. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) limits the size because in 2006 there was a terrorist plot to use liquid explosives in a bomb to blow up a plane. By limiting the amount of liquids, the risk of terrorists using a liquid explosive is reduced greatly.

What are some non-technological ways prohibited items are detected?

Some non-technological ways that prohibited items are detected are body searches, pat downs and sniffer dogs. Pat downs search for weapons stored on the body. Detection dogs are used to detect not only explosives, but also illegal drugs, firearms, or even blood. Their keen sense of smell can be trained to detect many substances.

What are some technological tools used to detect prohibited items?

Some technological tools used in detecting prohibited items include biometrics, metal detectors, and X-ray machines. Biometrics use physical traits to identify people. For example, airports check fingerprints, retina scans, and facial patterns and compare them to those of known terrorists. After biometrics, anybody who boards a plane must pass through a metal detector. Metal detectors are used to detect weapons by finding metal located on the body. Before walking through the metal detector, a person has to remove all their personal items, including their shoes, cell phones, and watches and have them scanned through an X-ray machine. While the person walks through the metal detector, their belongings are going through the X-ray machine. The machine emits X-rays and different materials absorb the rays at different levels. A detector compares materials that absorb high amounts of X-ray to those that absorb low amounts of X-ray and can identify items as organic, inorganic, and metal. A TSA agent monitors what is going through the machine by watching a monitor that shows a picture of everything that is moving through the machine. If the agent sees anything that is prohibited in carry-on luggage, he or she reports the bag. This image shows an X-ray of a bag. Organic materials, which are commonly used in explosives, are shaded orange.
Supplemental Background Figure

How safe are the technological tools used to detect prohibited items?

All the technological tools used for detection are safe. The safety of passengers is the number one priority of the TSA. Biometrics is non-invasive and usually only consist of scanning a fingerprint or taking a picture of your face. Metal detectors use low-frequency electromagnetic fields at a very low level which is safe for everyone. X-ray machines are more dangerous because of the emission of X-rays, so the body is not X-rayed, just personal belongings.


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Tier 1 Lessons: Grades 3 - 6

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