The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is set to use ‘smart’ mannequins to improve training for TSA officers.

Every day, the TSA screens more than 2 million passengers at airports throughout the United States. TSA officers use a combination of technological and manual procedures, including pat-downs. Pat-downs are used to determine whether prohibited items or other threats to transportation security are concealed on a person.

A pat-down may include inspection of the head, neck, arms, torso, legs, and feet. This includes head coverings and sensitive areas such as breasts, groin, and the buttocks. Due to the sensitivity of the process, training on pat-down procedures can be challenging and one-on-one feedback can be subjective.

Introducing PATT

To help improve this, the TSA Office of Requirements and Capabilities Analysis is working with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) to develop the Pat-down Accuracy Training Tool (PATT).

PATT will contain a ‘sensored’ layer capable of measuring the amount of pressure applied to various areas of the mannequin during a standardised pat-down procedure. The sensors will measure pressure applied during screening and analysed by software. The female version has approximately 2,000 sensors, while the male version has approximately 1,900.  PATT is connected to a computer, which will provide visual, objective feedback to the employee in training.

The PATT Tool will be instrumental in teaching new TSA officers the standardized pat-down procedures to ensure consistency and effectiveness, DHS says.

“As I, a person in training, start conducting a pat-down, the trainer will be able to use the PATT technology to see where I’m applying pressure. Is it the right amount of pressure? Am I missing areas I should be looking at?” said S&T First Responders Group Program Manager, Ajmal Aziz. “This lets a trainer or trainee effectively address how they are conducting pat-down procedures while increasing awareness.”

Pilots to evaluate the effectiveness of PATT will be implemented at the TSA Training Academy in Glynco, Georgia, and at select airports like Los Angeles International Airport.

Consistency for security

DHS says increased training and objective feedback will make pat-down procedures more consistent and effective, and ultimately improve the security of the travelling public. Future versions of PATT, including the software, could be tailored for specific organisational needs too.

“Training without feedback is akin to learning how to drive a car with no working gauges. While an experienced driver could help give you some helpful guidance, a speedometer providing real-time feedback is a much better indication of how fast you are actually going.”

By David Band, PATT TSA technical monitor

“We anticipate that PATT will be able to vastly improve a TSA officer’s ability to apply pressure within an ideal range, to cover all areas in their searches and to reduce the time needed for new officers to achieve a high level of proficiency,” said Band.