Thu, Nov 18, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Raising a false alarm in the US


A fake image of a gun designed to test security screeners' alertness backfired last week at two airports, creating major disruptions at both. The first incident occurred last week at Dulles International Airport near Washington, where several hundred passengers were evacuated after a screener reported seeing a suspicious image on the screen at the checkpoint.

The terminal was reopened an hour later and passengers were rescreened after no weapon was found.

The next day, a similar false likeness of a gun on a checkpoint screen caused security officials to evacuate about 5,000 passengers at Miami International Airport, where some flights were delayed for more than two hours while officials determined that no weapon existed.

Security officials said that animated test images of weapons supposedly inside checked bags were routinely randomly projected on checkpoint screens to test screeners' alertness, but that usually the tests were halted before any alarm is sounded.

They spun out of control last week, however, because of computer glitches that officials said were apparently unrelated.

"It amazes me how many times we see evacuation of an airport" for such reasons, David Forbes, president of the airline security consulting firm Boyd Forbes, said at a recent conference.

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