Have you ever wondered how airport security is taken care of with the help of an X-ray baggage scanner? If so, read this article which explains everything that you should know about an X-ray baggage scanner and how it helps to improve airport security.
What is the significance of airport security?
Imagine a scenario where you are reaching the airport to catch a flight! You keep your bags for security scanning and drop them off. Next, while marching towards the appropriate gate, you will be undergoing a thorough security check at the checkpoint. That’s where hi-tech airport technology would be scanning your body and your handbags as well. Remember, there is no compromise in safety! In case of any suspicion, this technology will alert the airport authorities so that they can corner the suspicious bags or the individuals. This is the way airport security is taken care of.
Since 1980, airport scanner technologies have fundamentally worked in this way only in all countries. In the United States, the US Department of Homeland Security employs biometric scanners as well as facial recognition technology to track suspicious travelers.
However, many airports across the world still employ 2-dimensional X-ray scanners to scan baggage and walk-through metal detectors to scan passengers’ bodies. Even the advanced millimeter wave technology is not used for passenger scanning. Only a few incremental changes were seen since 1980.
Countries across the world, especially Asian countries, rely on the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for the testing and approval of any security-related technologies. It takes 3-5 years on average. Once TSA evaluates and approves any technology, that becomes the golden standard for adoption.
That’s how safety should be ensured for all airport passengers. Furthermore, the security scanner machine should be able to differentiate between the real threats and the substances that may resemble threats without interrupting travelers’ privacy. For example, liquid explosive and honey look similar at the molecular level. But an efficient scanner should be able to detect the liquid explosive only and not the honey. This is where the right technology plays a significant role in improving airport security.
So, let us see how an X-ray baggage scanner helps!
What is an X-ray baggage scanner?
An X-ray baggage scanner is used to scan the luggage during check-in for security purposes. It is present in all airports and stations.
Here, X-rays are used for scanning purposes since they are highly penetrating electromagnetic waves. However, these X-rays used for inspection have a long wavelength with a range of 10-100 nanometers. Hence, they are called soft X-rays. Although they penetrate deeply, they are weaker when compared with the short-wavelength (hard) X-rays.
That’s why, these X-rays neither generate any radioactivity nor any radioactive materials while scanning any sample object. Furthermore, there is zero radioactive contamination, and doesn’t leave any radioactive material residue.
Here is the principle:
When the sample to be inspected is subjected to X-rays, the rays passing through the sample will be collected on the image detector. This detector then emits ultra-low-level current to visualize the scanned item with utmost resolution. For this clear visualization, both high-resolution data converters and special signal conditioning are required.
How does an X-ray baggage scanner improve airport security?
An airport security scanner resembles a boxy tunnel with a conveyor belt, where the bags are moved through the tunnel.
This X-ray security machine emits X-rays with a special lead-lined tube. Since lead is very dense, it absorbs most of the radiation.
A narrow one-centimeter-width gap is present in the lead lining through which X-rays can be passed into the tunnel. As and when each bag passes through the X-ray beam, the detector on the opposite side of the tunnel measures the radiation level that has penetrated the bag by delivering its real-time image.
In the past, the final images used to be only black and white. But today, it is not so. Various items are depicted in varied colors in the resultant image.
Organic substances like plastic, wood, textiles, and water appear orange in color. Inorganic substances like metals look blue. In case if organic and inorganic are overlapped in an item like salt, bones, and glass, it looks green in color. Even the tennis ball in a metal tube appears green.
Similarly, if the sample is denser or thicker, it looks darker on the screen. These denser materials appear black in color.
Later, the development of technology smoothens the scanning process and makes images sharper. For example, at Helsinki airport, dual view scanners are used to produce two varied images of one scanned item. These scanners involve the combination of X-rays and CT (Computed Tomography) technology to detect the explosives automatically.
Have you come across the scenario where the bags are opened after security scanning? If any forbidden or unidentifiable item is detected in the computer screen either through color differences or advanced technologies, then the bag is opened.
Usually, it is the security officer who is checking the bags through the computer screen who takes the decision about opening the bag. However, automated random sampling plays a role. In that case, even the security officer may not have an idea on whose baggage will be selected for an open inspection.
Is an X-ray baggage screening machine harmful to our body?
Industrial X-rays can detect the prohibited items such as explosives or weapons quickly in a reliable way without causing any damage to the examined items or individuals.
Usually, passengers come across three kinds of screenings at airports:
- Metal detectors
Metal detectors generate a low-strength magnetic field. As this field touches the metallic objects, it changes the field which can be detected by the sensors. As they are non-ionizing rays, they do not cause any biological damage.
- Baggage screening
Baggage in airports is scanned with the help of an airport x-ray machine. The X-ray in this scanner can create a picture of the items present inside the bags. Depending on the density of items inside the bag, the filters in this scanner color code the images. For example, apples will appear in a different color, unlike glass.
Although this scanner uses X-rays, it is well shielded. This thick shielding prevents the rays from causing any damage. Despite staying throughout the day beside this X-ray scanner instrument, the operators need not wear dosimeters.
Similarly, the contents in the luggage are safe. These X-rays cannot make the contents in the baggage radioactive. The power of this radiation is too small, that can be detected only once. Moreover, the radiation dose received by the target object will be lesser than 1μSv (1 microsievert), which is far lesser than those used for food sterilization. Moreover, this range is ten times lesser than the dose used for a dental X-ray.
In case if the film is highly sensitive, there is a slender risk of damage.
Remember that the radiation dose of a mobile phone and security scanner is almost the same, that’s negligible.
- Full body screening
This test is performed to reveal hidden objects such as explosives or weapons under the clothing.
There are two types of full body scanners namely millimeter wave scanner and backscatter scanner.
Backscatter scanner passes only very low-energy X-rays for the entire body scan. These rays bounce off the items under your clothes to develop an image of them. Hence, there is a negligible health risk associated with this scanning.
Millimeter wave scanners work in the same way as backscatter scanners. However, it uses radiofrequency waves instead of X-rays. These radiofrequency waves are non-ionizing with low intensity. So, you will not experience any health risks.
Usually, airport X-ray security machines must strictly comply with the standardized regulations of the use of ionizing radiation. In the UK, they adhere to the Ionizing Radiation Regulations 1999. However, in the US, these X-ray security machines adhere to the American Standard 1020.40 CFR to ensure both the safety and protection of the user’s health.
A friendly reminder about the safety of the X-ray baggage screening machine
In the year 2018, we came across the news about a child who rode through the X-ray baggage screening machine at the Xiaolan Railway Station in Southern China. As per China Global Television Network’s report, this child slipped away from his dad after passing the checkpoint and hopped onto the conveyor belt of an X-ray baggage scanner. The security guard was shocked to see the shape of the child on the screen during the X-ray scan.
There was another incident in the same year where a female in Dongguan, China rode through the X-ray baggage scanner while keeping her eye on her bag.
However, all these people were completely fine and there was no short-term danger to their health and life.
Nothing will happen by standing or sitting next to the airport security X-ray scanner or passing through that security check. Nevertheless, such foolish adventures are not at all advisable.
One should pay attention while crossing the security checkpoints or waiting to collect the baggage after the scan, especially if you are accompanied by a child.
Picture this: Walking continuously from the airport entrance to the gate! That is the expectation of every traveler. Steve Karoly, the acting assistant administrator of the TSA, stated that it might be possible in the coming 5-10 years in the United States.
So, let us hope that this security check in the airport becomes non-stop in the nearest future without halting every now and then in every checkpoint.
Finally, where could we find suitable x-ray baggage scanner manufacturers? Why not choose Uni X-ray, we are always here!