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Handheld device sought to reduce frequency of controversial pat-down searches at airports

In an effort to minimize the number of physical pat-downs that screeners must conduct at U.S. airports, DHS is inviting R&D proposals from companies and organizations that can develop handheld devices that weigh less than five pounds and which could resolve “anomalies” detected when passengers are sent through Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) equipment.

Essentially, the explosives division of the Science & Technology Directorate at DHS wants to reduce the likelihood that a passenger being sent to “secondary screening” -- after something suspicious turned up on the AIT monitor -- would be put through a pat-down inspection.

“Current resolution of anomalies presented on the AIT is limited to directed, and sometimes sensitive, area pat downs,” explains a solicitation issued last month by DHS. “This initiative is focused on reducing the number of passenger pat downs required to resolve AIT anomalies.” AIT machines are sometimes called whole-body scanners.

In pursuit of that goal, S&T has issued a broad agency announcement that invites potential vendors to submit white papers that describe how they would approach this technical challenge. DHS will evaluate those white papers and encourage the authors of the most interesting ideas to submit full proposals, which should run no more than 30 pages. Selected vendors will be asked to design, develop, fabricate, test and deliver prototypes of their handheld devices.

According to S&T, the “parameters” it would like to see in the new handheld devices include: (a) the device should be able to be operated with only one hand during screening, (b) it should weigh less than five pounds, (c) it should not be “tethered” to a desktop computer, power supply or external detection unit, (d) it should be able to detect metal and explosives, (e) it should handle the sampling, scanning and analysis as a single step, (f) results should be obtained in less than 15 seconds, and (g) the device should be ready to screen the next passenger in less than one minute.

“The device should be capable of screening all areas of the body without removal of clothing beyond outwear,” adds the broad agency announcement.

Pat-down procedures implemented at U.S. airports have inspired discontent from many airline passengers -- and outrage from a small number -- particularly when pat-downs are conducted on females, children or the elderly. TSA finds itself on the defensive periodically, when a screener executes a pat-down procedure that antagonizes or embarrasses a passenger.

Further information about this broad agency announcement is available from Amalia Rodezno, a contract specialist, at



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