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J. Kurt Roberts Are scanners really needed for air travel?

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J. Kurt Roberts

Posted: Saturday, December 11, 2010 12:00 am

As we all know, the Sept. 11 attacks dramatically changed the way Americans travel, at least by air. The TSA's new screening procedures, consisting of full-body scanners and/or "enhanced pat-downs," has at least some, myself included, wondering if these measures are all that necessary.

Let's face it: Unless every single airplane passenger is willing to undergo a strip search, complete with a body-cavity check, there is no way we can be completely, 100-percent sure that some kind of explosive device has not been smuggled on board. And if my memory serves me, the Sept. 11 attacks occurred without the use of a single incendiary device.

While I personally would not have much problem with a somewhat thorough examination of the contents of my jeans, (assuming I get to pick the hottest female TSA agent in the airport to do the inspection,) it should not be at all acceptable to allow such searches of ANYONE under the age of 18.

And from what I've gathered from gleaning the various press releases, pretty much all these searches have discovered so far are various fairly embarrassing medical appendages.

I don't know about you, but if it was my job to search thousands of people day after day after day, and not find much of anything that most rational people would consider to be a threat, the possibility of complacency and inattentiveness setting in would loom large.

The Obama administration has also pretty much decided that the use of racial profiling is an unacceptable manner to decide which passengers are considered worthy of further scrutiny. The student from the Middle East is given basically the same threat-level assessment as the grandmother from Peoria.

As of last month, there are more than 400 full-body scanners in use at 70 airports nationwide at a cost of $150,000 per scanner, not counting maintenance and operating expenses. Obviously, not everyone is having to undergo such extreme measures.

Dogs have, on average, scent receptacles that are somewhere between 1,000 to 10,000 times more sensitive that the average human. They have been proven effective, when trained correctly, to locate almost everything under the sun. And the average fully trained bomb-sniffing dog costs around $9,000 and works for somewhat less than the average soon-to-be unionized Transportation Safety Administration employee.

There will, of course, always be the need for the TSA or some other similar private security firm to administer airport security. With human nature being what it is, there will also always be people who object to being subjected to what they perceive to be overly invasive search techniques. Giving people a third choice seems to me at least, to be not only costeffective, but effective, period.

However, with last month's development in Tel Aviv of a portable electronic sensor capable of detecting explosives even better than most trained dogs, the days of "enhanced pat-downs" may very well be numbered anyway.

Of course, the very best deterrent to those who wish to do harm to their fellow passengers is now, and will remain, the other passengers themselves. Being keenly aware of the goings on around us, and reacting accordingly is essential.

J. Kurt Roberts can be reached at

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