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Press Release

Gretchen Underwood

For immediate release:
May 7, 2003

Carnegie Mellon's SWIFT System Expected to Expedite Airport Security Screening Procedures

PITTSBURGH—A Carnegie Mellon University research team has unveiled a design of an airport security screening system that has been praised by federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials for its potential to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of screening procedures while reducing traveler delays.

Developed by graduate students in a Systems Synthesis project course at Carnegie Mellon's H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management, the Short-Wait Integrated Flight Travel (SWIFT) system employs a combination of processing enhancements, policy changes and technological innovations to improve airport security screening and reduce the time travelers spend in security clearance procedures.

The group recommended that SWIFT undergo initial testing at Pittsburgh International Airport to further assess its performance in field conditions and then expand to other airports. TSA approval for this initial test phase is pending.

In the SWIFT system, travelers who voluntarily submit to and pass a security clearance will use a card containing personal and biometric information to pass through an airport screening process comparable to what was used prior to September 11, 2001. The TSA will define the details of this security clearance, particularly the national databases to be scanned and the criteria for granting travelers SWIFT approval.

Coupled with streamlined procedures for screening both carry-on and checked baggage, the expedited process will accelerate the passage of all travelers while enabling airport screeners to focus more directly on travelers not cleared beforehand, thereby enhancing security at the same time as expediting the flow of all passengers, according to Alfred Blumstein, the Jonsson University Professor at Carnegie Mellon and faculty advisor to the research team.

"The Carnegie Mellon team has been instrumental in delivering sound recommendations that have given TSA leaders the data they need to make key decisions," says Craig Martelle, assistant federal security director for screening at the Pittsburgh airport.

In fact, TSA officials in Washington, D.C., have said that the comprehensive SWIFT system, which incorporates Aviation Transportation Security Act (AVTSA) requirements, represents "the best research in this area that's been done in the entire United States," according to Martelle.

"Our studies estimate that about 40 percent of air travelers on any day, mainly frequent travelers, would join the SWIFT program at a nominal cost of $50 to cover the cost of the background check," says Ryan Wilson, one of the students in the group.

There are various biometric options now available that would ensure that the person using the SWIFT traveler verification card is the one to whom it was issued. The most likely to be adopted would involve finger and iris scans. "Each could meet stringent false-acceptance criteria," says Jordan Schreck, another of the students, "and a fused system of multiple biometrics would have a very low false-rejection rate, below 3 in 10,000, for example."

After passing the biometric verification, SWIFT travelers would go through a screening at the security checkpoint similar to that of two years ago. "Simulation analyses show that SWIFT passengers would spend under two minutes at the security checkpoint during peak periods. By freeing up TSA personnel to screen non-SWIFT passengers, these passengers could be examined more closely," according to Michael Kaufman, a student on the project team. Matthew Ragan, one of the student leaders of the project, emphasized that, "Non-SWIFT passengers will also benefit from the SWIFT system because SWIFT travelers move through more quickly. Their average time to pass through security will decrease by nearly 10 percent. Thus, the SWIFT system can reduce delay for all passengers and increase security by focusing attention on those who do not pass a prior check."

Initially, all that will be required at the airport security checkpoint will be a card scanner and biometric devices. According to Carnegie Mellon's recommendations, the initial SWIFT users could be airport and airline employees, followed by airlines' preferred passengers who will be issued the cards at no cost.

"Later versions of SWIFT would involve airline identification of SWIFT travelers at check-in and priority screening of checked baggage," says Catharine Foster, another student leader.

The team also analyzed checked-baggage screening and security checkpoint operations at the Pittsburgh airport and identified improvements that could significantly reduce delays. Analysis of checkpoint processing revealed that the x-ray inspection of a traveler's carry-on baggage took considerably longer than the magnetometer screening. "Simulation studies showed that installing two x-ray stations per magnetometer would reduce the average checkpoint processing delay by 40 percent," says David Stopp, a student who studied these operations. When studying the checked baggage process at PIT, the team found that about 22 percent of bags trigger an alarm and then occupy the CTX x-ray machine for considerable time while the appropriate response is considered. By installing a shunt that moved these bags onto an "alarm-bag conveyor," combined with remote video capability to review the bag in question, the processing rate could be increased by about 50 percent, thereby enhancing security as well as reducing delay in that phase of the operation.

TSA inquiries should be directed to Mark Hatfield at 917-620-2642.


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