Comments

Ray X.December 20, 2006 11:26 AM

Security, real or staged, needs to be built into a system so that it is readily usable to all users. We often make too many assumptions regarding levels of knowledge.

PatrickDecember 20, 2006 11:27 AM

When I worked as a screener in college 15 years ago, people used to put pets through the xray pretty regularly.

TimDecember 20, 2006 11:41 AM

One thing the first page of the article failed to mention is that this grandma is apparently too dumb to fly, and probably should not be given baby-sitting duties.

I am really glad I have not had such an ignorant person in front of me at the security lines.

Da FredcritterDecember 20, 2006 11:43 AM

One wonders what the international "don't" sign (i.e., your basic red circle with the red slash over a pictogram) would look like for "no babies."

Valdis KletnieksDecember 20, 2006 12:05 PM

"too dumb to fly"...

Let's take another look at that idea. You're flying possibly for the first time, you *don't* know what the security theatre is all about, you're holding a month-old baby, you don't speak the language, you put the baby down in the plastic bin because it looks the right size and reasonably safe and you need to put him *someplace* while you deal with anything else that you may or may not need to put in bins, while some TSA person is making motions at you to hurry up and yelling in a language you don't understand, and then somebody else starts feeding bins into the machine and doesn't notice that the blankets have a baby in them...

Think about it again: You're carrying a baby in your arms, and you have a bag with a shoulder strap that requires both hands to remove.

Now where *do* you put that baby while you deal with the bag?

Now repeat the exercise, while being stressed by people in uniforms giving you orders in a language you don't understand.

Still think she's too stupid to take care of the baby?

Geoff LaneDecember 20, 2006 12:14 PM

Would the TSA normally inspect the contents of a babies nappy/diaper? If not it would be an ideal location for some firelighters and a box of matches (in a sealed plastic bag obviously.)

Richard BraakmanDecember 20, 2006 12:18 PM

I always cringe at the quotes in these articles. For example, "If a baby can get through, what the hell else can get through?" (supposedly from a security agent)

Contrast that with the statement a few paragraphs earlier: "A screener watching the machine's monitor immediately noticed the outline of a baby and pulled the bin backward on the conveyor belt."

It sounds like correct action from the screener, and the baby didn't get through.

Anonymous CowardDecember 20, 2006 12:26 PM

It's not surprising to me that someone would feel too intimidated to ask questions, especially if she doesn't speak the language.

bobkrispenDecember 20, 2006 12:30 PM

Quote the article:

"There's an obligation on the traveler to use some common sense," said Larry Fetters, the TSA's federal security director at LAX.


But why should the traveler be using common sense if the TSA won't use common sense? Where's the parity in that?

Pockets of CompetenceDecember 20, 2006 12:59 PM

The good news is a screener finally caught something. The better news is he did something reasonable about it, and the best news is that he thought up the solution on the spot using his own faculties.

Let's make that guy TSA Director.

Dirk DingleDecember 20, 2006 1:05 PM

The baby had less exposure to radiation from the machine than he's going to get from the flight itself. So, why can't we put babies in the machine? I know it's not in style right now, but what's the problem here?

Evan MurphyDecember 20, 2006 1:17 PM

"We're trying to figure out what changes we can make, short of putting up signs saying, 'Don't put your baby through the X-ray machine,' " Melendez said. "We're trying to determine how we can make this not happen again."

Why the hell are we stopping short of "Don't put your baby through the X-ray machine" signs? That is in fact *exactly* what we need here.

That said, it's not always as easy as you'd think to design informative signs: you have to assume that people are intimidated, stressed out, having their attention drawn a dozen different ways, and have very little common cultural context, let alone be literate in any particular language.

Ideally, using only easily understood visual symbols that can be recognized and processed by just about anyone in a few seconds, you want to impart the following information:

Metallic items *must* go through the X-ray.
Babies and pets *must not* go through the X-ray.
Sharp items *must not* go through security at all.
Liquids *must* be shown to a human screener.

It's certainly not trivial.

Josh ODecember 20, 2006 1:46 PM

I speak English as a native language (rather well I believe), but I'd like to tell you a story about my experience with Airport Security.

I put my expensive laptop in the plastic bin and waited my turn to go through the metal detector barefoot. The conveyor was full, so my bin was on the little roller things. Then a very large security man barked at me to go through the metal detector so as not to hold up the line. I tend to follow orders from the security personnel in airports since I'm not old enough to need colo-rectal exams and would like to wait until then to have any foreign object inserted into that orifice.

I got through the metal detector, and waited at the other end of the X-ray machine for my laptop, shoes & wallet to come through. It didn't and I asked the Security Woman standing right next to my bin on the other side of the metal detector if she could put my bin through. With quite a lot of attitude, I was told that it wasn't her job to put the bin through, and I needed to do it myself. I didn't think I could go through the security backwards, so I was about to go to the exit side, and go back through security and just hope my laptop wasn't stolen in the meantime. Luckily they let me go backwards through the metal detector and push my bin through myself.

So I do understand that it can be confusing, even if you speak a language similar to the vernacular of the Security people. They're bossing you around and often giving somewhat contradictory orders. That being said though, when you have a baby, at least for me, you are insanely careful with them and I can't think of a situation stressful enough that I would allow that to happen.

AnonymousDecember 20, 2006 2:08 PM

It's not only security theater, it's medical response theater.

If the xray machine is only giving a dose equivalent to one day's worth of cosmic rays (see article), then why the hell NOT but a baby through the machine? And then when the baby comes out, why freak out about receiving an injurious dose of radiation? It sounds like over-reaction on top of over-reaction, adding up to theater of the absurd.

By the way, if I didn't put the baby through the machine, maybe it's because I'd worry he'd start crying and thrashing and get the blanket stuck or something. But if you're worrying about kids freaking out, believe me, it doesn't help when even children have to go through the metal detector alone, to a big scary-looking stranger on the other side.

Every year I think it can't get stupider. Every year I find I'm wrong.

Filias CupioDecember 20, 2006 2:51 PM

I'm with Anonymous - the only unreasonableness was insisting on a medical examination for a baby which got less radiation from the machine than they were about to get from the flight.

Good old days....December 20, 2006 3:05 PM

As a joke I put my son on the conveyor belt and told him to sit still. Then I looked up at the security guy, exchanged a chuckle, picked up my son and went through the metal detector.


Of course, that was before 9/11 when humour was declared a banned substance.

Tom SDecember 20, 2006 3:28 PM

Filias, a doctor says the babies OK, lady probably won't sue. If there was no doctor and the baby gets sick a week later... You get the idea.

Jon SowdenDecember 20, 2006 3:29 PM

> I'm with Anonymous - the only
> unreasonableness was insisting on a
> medical examination for a baby which
> got less radiation from the machine than
> they were about to get from the flight.
Well, we know that *now*, as presumably do the TSA screeners at that airport. But did they know that *then*? Also, it's quite reasonable and normal that dosages that are considered safe for adults are not considered safe for kids. My guess is that there wasn't an actual 'checkup' at the hospital. Not in terms of a physical examination anyway. It'd be more along the lines of "Look, this kid got 3 seconds in the airport screener which runs at 50mW - will he be ok?" and the doctor says "yep, no worries. That's about a days worth of what you'd normally get anyway."

I mean, what are they going to check for anyway - chromosomal abnormalities? I don't think so.

Jon

VickiDecember 20, 2006 3:35 PM

Note also that the "a day's worth of cosmic rays" dose estimate is based on the baby being pulled back out of the machine; it doesn't tell us how much radiation he'd have gotten if he'd gone through.

AnonymousDecember 20, 2006 4:22 PM

if the babies are not put thru the x-rays, do all babies go thru manual screening then?

a baby can hide a lot of interesting things.

Davi OttenheimerDecember 20, 2006 4:24 PM

Some wise comments above. Makes me wonder if a mother should be more worried about their children being exposed to the antics of the Homeland Security Department than to the radiation in a luggage scanner.

"dose estimate is based on the baby being pulled back out of the machine"

I thought he was dosed enough to show up on the monitor and be recognized as a non-threat. Or did he get recognized on his way into the tunnel? Radiation exposure depends on a bunch of things. Dosages are listed here:

http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/airportscreener/...

Davi OttenheimerDecember 20, 2006 4:34 PM

"'A screener watching the machine's monitor immediately noticed the outline of a baby and pulled the bin backward on the conveyor belt.'

It sounds like correct action from the screener, and the baby didn't get through."

I don't know about that. I always seem to get every piece of my luggage inspected and handled before it even goes into the machine. My personal favorite so far has been switzerland, perhaps because they argued that "sealable bag" really means "sealed bag". You can guess who won that interpretive debate.

Curious to me how a baby could make it to the entrance tunnel unless a screener had already badly screwed up. So I wouldn't call it "correct" screener action just based on a moment when the outline showed up on the monitor, although I agree it could have gone even worse from there.

X the UnknownDecember 20, 2006 4:59 PM

"So, why can't we put babies in the machine? "

Remember, this is after the screener pulled the tub backwards, after the first hint that there was something wrong. So it didn't go through the entire screening. They're just guessing at what kind of dosage the baby got, and undoubtedly playing it as "low", to avoid hysteria and lawsuits.

However, this doesn't tell us a thing about what sort of dosage you get when you run through the entire process...

duchessDecember 20, 2006 6:30 PM

To Geoff Lane, and anyone else: When I flew with my 10-month old recently, the TSA wanded him, and focused a lot on his diaper. I was tempted to tell them they could change it for me.

As a non-native English speaker, I can easily see how this kind of mistake can happen. Even more than that, I've accompanied several older women who did not speak English on flights. They are utterly bewildered about what the security measures are, and the families coach them to cooperate and to go through security with minimal fuss. They've stressed that if the TSA finds they didn't have something scanned, they can get in trouble. Even jail. Sure the family means medication, or money. But for an elderly woman bewildered by the whole theater, you can't expect her to make that distinction. If I was a first-time traveler, I might make the mistake, and I am not old.

It has nothing to do with "common sense" - this is what all these years of non-stop scaremongering has done to us.

averrosDecember 20, 2006 7:42 PM

I have a friend who served in Afganistan as a sniper. In the Soviet army. One of his posts was guarding entrance to a military base, which also dispensed food aid for the locals - so there were daily lines of women, many of them carrying children, waiting to get in.

The problem was, from time to time a woman turned out carrying a dead body stuffed with explosives. Blowing up as soon as she got close to a Russian. So his assignment was to determine if the babies were alive - through the riflescope, and shoot if he decided that there's something wrong.

The points are: it is hard to tell a sleeping baby from a dead baby. And it's hard to stop anyone pissed off enough to carry out a suicide mission from doing it.

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TomDecember 20, 2006 8:16 PM

"I always cringe at the quotes in these articles. For example, "If a baby can get through, what the hell else can get through?" (supposedly from a security agent)
Contrast that with the statement a few paragraphs earlier: "A screener watching the machine's monitor immediately noticed the outline of a baby and pulled the bin backward on the conveyor belt.""

I thought the exact same thing. What a bunch of FUD from the ex-FAA dude.

asdfjklDecember 20, 2006 10:41 PM

This woman needs to be incarcerated for her criminal abuse of this child. I think that 30 years would be an appropriate sentence for this disgusting and heinous woman.

I strongly believe that this woman derived some kind of perverse sexual pleasure from harming this child and should be forced to register as a sex offender upon her release from prison.

NocturnDecember 21, 2006 1:48 AM

"If the xray machine is only giving a dose equivalent to one day's worth of cosmic rays (see article), then why the hell NOT but a baby through the machine? And then when the baby comes out, why freak out about receiving an injurious dose of radiation? It sounds like over-reaction on top of over-reaction, adding up to theater of the absurd."

The baby received this dose in the seconds he was in the machine, before the screener noticed and pulled it out.
It did not spend a full cycle in the machine, which could have landed it a dose that was harmfull.

Not knowing how much radiation he received, it was the prudent thing to check him out.

Radiation is dangerous in any case, but someone can look quite normal while having received a dose that is damaging days, weeks or years later. It's note something you laugh off.

NocturnDecember 21, 2006 1:55 AM

"The points are: it is hard to tell a sleeping baby from a dead baby. And it's hard to stop anyone pissed off enough to carry out a suicide mission from doing it."

Yes, but in that case, snipers etc do more harm then good as they also hurt innocents.

Your security effort in that case would be better focused at getting to the bad guys before they get in a line with a bomb.

Also think about this scenario. I'm a suicide bomber, I anticipate such measures as snipers. So, instead of carrying a detonator, I carry a switch that I have to keep pressed. As soon as I release it, bomb goes boom.

Your sniper as a counter measure is worthless now and the bomb goes off regardless of your effort.

Dave AronsonDecember 21, 2006 8:59 AM

@Nocturn: Yes, the bomb goes off, but if the sniper has shot you far enough away from your objective, your mission might not be accomplished. Contrast a suicide bomber blowing up 50 yards from the base entrance, versus right there.

NocturnDecember 21, 2006 9:05 AM

@Dave Aronson

Maybe, if he caught on fast enough. But he will still miss some bombers while killing people not carrying a bomb.

The tradeoff is just not worth it.

evaDecember 21, 2006 9:35 AM

The poor woman probably isn't an octopus and therefore she does not have enough hands to hold her: jacket, handful of coins and keys, transparent white bag with dangerous toothpaste in, handbag, baby... she probably needed to remove her coat, placed the baby in the white tray for a sec, but the rolling bars propelled the tray towards the X-ray machine - the rest is history.

I've read some comments suggesting the woman was dumb and uncapable of taking care of a baby. I strongly disagree. It's just that airports and the so-called security measures make airports way less secure - too many useless things to handle, too much anxiety, heck, even I get distracted with such "circus" and I fly regularly. Imagine a granny that only takes one flight a year.

In fact, I am surprised it hasn't happened before.

Peter PearsonDecember 21, 2006 10:32 AM

We *do* all know that the radiation dose is not dangerous: your camera can go all the way through the machine without fogging your film. (Anybody here remember what film is?)

And Jon Sowden omitted an important part of the doctor's response. The full response is, "Yep, no worries; that'll be $350."

The most alarming aspect of this incident is the absence of anyone with enough judgment to prevent such wild overreaction.

CommonSenseDecember 21, 2006 11:03 AM

Okay.. having no common sense has been an excuse for just about anything in the US (I live here, was born here, and raised here -- only left for vacation) ever since people were awarded money for violating things that their brain taught them years ago (fire = hot, don't touch.. coffee is supposed to be hot, don't test it while driving so you can spill it over yourself).

While I understand their can be confusion over what non-living items can be placed on the conveyer belt and being uncertain as to wait to push it through or follow instructions, I fail to grasp the confusion over putting living things on it.

I think this just goes to show the lack of thought that some people have. If she was truly confused, she could have asked as best she could. There is simply no excuse for her doing it. Blaming TSA for allowing it? We know they are flawed. But at some point, you also have to blame the users of the process, not those running the process.

EpimortumDecember 21, 2006 12:28 PM

Perhaps I missed a post and someone covered this but:

Does no one see; to me what appears obvious?

The screeners were too focused on their equipment and not enough on their environment to notice something was up. Namely a baby on the belt. ?!?!?!? WTF ?!?!?!?

To me, at least, this points to a MUCH larger societal issue.

We as Joe average (some more average than others) have become more like cattle than we wish to admit. Perhaps even worse than. One of our primary responsibility as citizens/people/organisms is to constantly be vigilant. I'm not saying paranoid (that's a horse of a different colour) just watchful.

(Hell, if nothing else I would've figured a couple thousand years of evolution would have so deeply ingrained that in us we wouldn't be able to act otherwise.)

If we leave our personal/familial/etc safety entirely in the hands of OTHERS, we are no better than mindless drones.
If other passengers were as watchful as they should have been someone should have caught the baby on the belt and this whole thing could have been avoided.

In fact my larger point is: The majority of this security theatre (good name Bruce) would be ENTIRELY unnecessary if people would:
1.) Take responsibility for their own actions.
2.) Not be so damn complacent and boot-licking to authority for authority's sake.
3.) STOP letting politicians define security policies.
4.) Hold Government/Organizations accountable for THEIR actions
--Gov -Stand-up and say NO! or YES! depending.
--Org -vote with your wallet, most only listen when money's mouth is open.
5.) Help other people --remember friends were once strangers.
6.) Spread the word, circle jerks do no good when the circle doesn't get bigger.

You get the point.

Let me stop before I start ranting.

Thank you everyone for your time.

Epimortum

Addendum:
Bruce keep up the good work. We as informed persons NEED to put a stop to all the bullshit or we'll be wallowing in it sooner than we think. I can already smell it on the wind.

Valdis KletnieksDecember 21, 2006 3:36 PM

"coffee is supposed to be hot, don't test it while driving so you can spill it over yourself)."

Yes. But is coffee supposed to be *so* hot that if you manage to spill it on yourself, you will have *third* degree burns in just 3 to 7 seconds?

http://lawandhelp.com/q298-2.htm has more info on that whole 'McDonalds hot coffee' lawsuit, which people should read before saying it was a stupid suit.

AnonymousDecember 21, 2006 5:34 PM

> But is coffee supposed to be *so* hot that if you manage to spill it on yourself, you will have *third* degree burns in just 3 to 7 seconds?

Yes, it is. The minimum acceptable serving temperature for coffee is a good 40°F hotter than the temperature that can cause 3rd degree burns in 5 seconds on the most delicate skin.

Coffee connoisseurs say the stuff is supposed to be prepared at 200°F ± 5°F (bearing in mind that 212°F is as hot as it is physically possible to make it at sea level) and served as quickly as possible thereafter, but certainly (except in the case of espresso, which is served a little cooler, around 160°F) before the temperature drops below 180°F. Restaurants which serve their coffee cooler than that regularly get complaints from the public about their bad coffee.

This temperature range is easily capable of rapidly causing serious burns, simply because of the high specific heat capacity of water. In fact on the most delicate skin, a third degree scald can be created in under 1 second at 150°F, in 5 seconds at 140°F, and in 30 seconds at 130°F.

In short, there does not exist an overlap between coffee serving temperatures which are safe to spill on the skin, and yet which provide acceptable tasting coffee.

evaDecember 22, 2006 4:10 AM

You won't see an Italian (French, Spaniard... folks from countries with a strong coffee culture) driving while sipping coffee, the safest way to drink coffee has been known for many years: sit down, browse a newspaper for 5 minutes (or check your appointments for the day if you are so busy you can't afford 5 minutes to relax) while you drink it!!!!!

Connection to the baby case: It's just a question of common sense. An asset that is lacking in security checkpoints at airports worldwide. The authorities going all loopy and paranoid is distorting our common sense too.

Richard BraakmanDecember 22, 2006 5:52 AM

None of the "driving while drinking coffee" comments are relevant to the actual case, which involved someone spilling the coffee while sitting in the passenger seat of a parked car.

David AJanuary 9, 2007 8:53 AM

Further to Patrick's comment, I saw pet rabbits put through the scanner at Toulouse airport, France, a few years ago.

PeggyJanuary 11, 2007 1:07 PM

About 4 years ago I was traveling with my new born son, and a Pomeranian puppy. I had carry ons too, besides the infant and puppy. When I got to security, they wanted me to take the dog out of the kennel, and they were going to x-ray the kennel.

On the flight home, I had to go through security, they told me to SEND THE DOG THROUGH. They said they do it all the time and the dog would be safe. They x-rayed my dog. I was horrified they would do this, and heard them snickering, as he passed through.

My dog suffers seizures now, and I don't know if it is related, or not, but have always wondered what damage was done to my dog? I also wonder how often they really do this, and if they are supposed to be doing this? This is an absolutely true story. I ocassionally look to see what I can find on this subject online, and this is the closest I have found.

RogerJune 8, 2007 6:41 PM

@Peggy:
> My dog suffers seizures now, and I don't know if it is related, or not, but have always wondered what damage was done to my dog?

Animals should not be sent through the machine, because it is not designed for the purpose and the moving parts might cause mechanical injury, especially if an animal panicked and tried to crawl deeper into the machine to hide.

However, there is absolutely no chance that the x-rays did your pet any harm. The x-ray dose from the scanner is so low, it is actually much lower than the natural radiation you will receive during the flight!

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