Des Moines airport updates security process

Kiana Roppe

The Des Moines International Airport underwent a significant change in security on Tuesday, Feb. 7, when the Transportation Security Administration installed a new body scanner to better detect threats.

Carrie Harmon, a spokesperson for TSA, said the body scanner uses Millimeter Wave Advanced Imaging Technology. This technology emits low, safe energy and bounces electromagnetic waves off a person’s body to get an image.

“This technology enhances security by safely screening passengers for metallic and non-metallic threats-including weapons and explosives —without physical contact,” Harmon said.

Travelers are advised to remove all items the scanner may assess as a problem area, including metal and accessories, so no further screening is required.

The image created from this scanner does not show every part of a person’s body. Instead, it shows a generic male or female body outline, similar to what a child might draw. The image will only appear on the screen if a potential threat is detected.

If a threat is detected, the image will indicate the problem area. If not, an “OK” appears on the screen without an image. Once the passenger is cleared of a threat, the image is automatically deleted from the system.

“Citizens should always be aware of the trade-offs,” said Stephen Sapp, professor of sociology at Iowa State.

Sapp studies risk perceptions of new technologies. He said that a classic dilemma will play out in the minds of travelers: How much individual privacy are they willing to give up for public safety?

Travelers who are concerned about their privacy have the option of not going through the scanner. Instead, they will receive an alternate screening involving a pat down.

Harmon said there are currently about 570 Advanced Imaging Technology units at about 130 airports, including Des Moines. There are even scanners in Canada, France, the Netherlands, Nigeria and the United Kingdom.

“So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Harmon said regarding the scanner in Des Moines.

For more information about the safety and privacy of the scanner, people are encouraged to visit the official TSA website