Make us your home page

Get ready to get swabbed for explosives testing at TIA

TAMPA — As the airport security dance goes, the latest step didn't bother T.J. Kerner.

A federal officer rubbed the cotton strip over his palms and fingers as Kerner waited in a security screening line at Tampa International Airport on Monday. In less than a minute, a device that looks like a computer printer swallowed the swab and reported his hands were free of any bomb residue.

"It didn't slow down the line and was fairly convenient,'' said the 31-year-old Las Vegas resident. "If it's good for security, I'm fine with it.''

The technology isn't new. But Transportation Security Administration officers now are patrolling airports with the portable devices to randomly check passengers and their carry-ons for traces of explosives. They'll mostly test travelers waiting at airport gates or in regular security screening lines.

"The TSA has many layers of security, and we're introducing another layer,'' said spokeswoman Sari Koshetz.

Soon after the attempted Christmas Day plot to bomb a U.S.-bound flight, the TSA tried the roaming tests at five airports, including Orlando International. Suspect Farouk Abdulmutallab passed through a metal detector in an Amsterdam airport, but metal detectors can't pick up the powdered explosives that officials say were sewn inside his underwear.

Last month, the TSA announced plans to roll out the roving bomb detectors nationwide. The program should be in all U.S. airports by next week.

Explosive trace detectors were an early tool for the fledgling TSA months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The early machines were bulky and anchored at airport security checkpoints. Newer models are the size of a briefcase. The TSA plans to spend $40 million next year for 800 new detectors, all highly sensitive to a wide range of chemicals.

At Tampa International, TSA officers roll the explosive detectors on carts or perch them on tables. Besides testing travelers at security lines and gates, they could randomly select people in any "sterile'' areas past security checkpoints, Koshetz said.

On its blog (, the TSA acknowledges that people who are in contact with "accelerants and munitions'' — members of the military, firefighters, police and sport shooters — could set off alarms.

"No matter how much of an expert you are at traveling, it's not guaranteed that you won't be stopped for additional screening of some sort,'' says the blog. The agency says it has long-standing procedures to deal with bad guys while clearing those who aren't a threat.

TSA officials don't talk about what specific materials the detectors flag as dangerous. It's been reported that passengers who recently took nitroglycerin heart medicine can set off the detectors.

"Just be aware of what you've been doing before coming to the airport,'' Koshetz said.

Travelers flagged by the detectors must go through secondary screening, such as a pat-down search or scanning by a machine that can identify weapons beneath clothing. People who refuse the trace explosive test can be kept from flying.

Steve Huettel can be reached at or (813) 226-3384.

Get ready to get swabbed for explosives testing at TIA 03/01/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 2, 2010 10:56am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Starbucks to close all Teavana locations, including five in Tampa Bay


    Local Teavana locations include Tyrone Square in St. Petersburg, International Plaza and Westfield Citrus Park in Tampa, Brandon and Clearwater.

    Starbucks announced Thursday plans to shut down all 379 Teavana stores, citing "underperformance." Starbucks acquired the mall-based tea chain for $620 million in 2012. [ CANDICE CHOI | AP file photo]
  2. Trigaux: Closing Iron Yard coding school hits area tech hard but leaders talk of options


    The coming shutdown this fall of the Iron Yard software coding school in downtown St. Petersburg — announced this month as part of a national closing of all 15 Iron Yard locations — remains a shocking event to a Tampa Bay technology community that dreams big of becoming a major player in the Southeast if not …

    In better days last fall, friends and family of graduates at The Iron Yard, based in the Station House in downtown St. Petersburg, applaud during "Demo Day" when grads of the coding school show off their skills. Despite the local success and strong job placement by the coding school, The Iron Yard is closing all of its 15 locations across the country this summer. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  3. U.S. economy gathers steam in second quarter


    WASHINGTON — The U.S. economy revved up this spring after a weak start to the year, fueled by strong consumer spending. But the growth spurt still fell short of the optimistic goals President Donald Trump hopes to achieve through tax cuts and regulatory relief.

    A government report released Friday showed economic output picked up in the second quarter. 
[Associated Press file photo]
  4. Founder of Tampa home sharing platform questions Airbnb, NAACP partnership


    TAMPA — A Tampa rival to Airbnb, which was launched because of discrimination complaints on the dominant home sharing platform, has concerns about the new partnership between Airbnb and NAACP announced this week.

    Rohan Gilkes poses for a portrait at his home and business headquarters in Tampa. 

Innclusive, a Tampa-based start-up, is a home-sharing platform that focuses on providing a positive traveling experience for minorities. [CHARLIE KAIJO | Times]
  5. Appointments at Port Tampa Bay and Tampa General Medical Group highlight this week's Tampa Bay business Movers & Shakers



    Port Tampa Bay announced that Jamal Sowell has been named director of special projects. Sowell, a former member of the U.S.Marine Corps, will support internal, external and special projects, assist the executive team with management oversight and serve as a liaison on a variety of port …

    Port Tampa Bay announced this week that Jamal Sowell has been named director of special projects. [Handout photo]