AIRPORT SECURITY FOR THE 9/11 AGE
Recent dummy-weapon tests at airports show it's still possible to get guns through security. here's how a super-secure airport would work.
We asked Isotec Inc., a Denver-based security systems design firm, to help us engineer an airport that would target terrorists without gumming up passenger traffic. We also sought input from CompuDyne Corp., Viisage Technology, General Defense Systems, and other companies that make and install security equipment. In this exercise, money was no object; safety was our only concern.
We set a target date of five years from now. But much of the technology is available, or will be very soon. The goal: Every person, every bag, and all supplies and equipment in an airport will be tagged, tracked, and instantly locatable.
1. CHECK-IN AND SECURE ID
Initial safeguards appear a mile outside the airport. Scanners at tollbooth-like structures along access roads aim their laser scanners at vehicles to see if they're carrying explosives. If a soft-drink supply truck is hauling something more volatile than Coke, barriers will prevent it from getting into the airport's secure zone.
First stop for passengers is an ID kiosk, not a ticket agent. A camera and computer linked to facial recognition software process a snapshot. The computer then generates a tamperproof, easily trackable photo-ID smart card with a chip that contains identifying information: flight and gate number, check-in time, as well as a digital version of the facial scan. The scan itself is cross-checked against a database of terrorist suspects.
Meanwhile, at the check-in counter, the passenger swipes the smart card and sensor-equipped tags are attached to baggage and carry-ons. Each of these tags contains a radio frequency identification (RFID) device that emits a faint radio signal and makes a bag locatable at all times, anywhere. The tags are matched to the smart card: If a passenger doesn't board, bags won't either. If a passenger acquires an extra bag along the way, the system knows.
Checked and tagged luggage is examined using a laser scanner that first excites the molecules of items inside the bag, then compares the light those molecules emit against a database of chemical components, looking for suspicious combinations of materials. All flagged bags are shunted to a secure area and an alert is sent to the next checkpoint to detain the passenger bearing the corresponding smart card.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.