What does it take to become a successful x-ray screener?


The evolving threat and innovation of terrorism over the last 30 years has completely changed the security screening landscape.   It was once the case that all an x-ray screener needed to concern themselves with was the detection of guns and knives.

Now, all types of items have to be considered as threats as they may be concealing an explosive device. Whether it is a pair of shoes, a bottle of liquid, a tennis ball filled with TATP explosive or a pair of underpants; terrorists will try any possible means to get past security,

The easiest way to identify a concealed IED is through the use of an explosive trace detector. However, due to time constraints, security screeners are unable to use these machines on every single item that passes through the security checkpoint.

X-ray machines are therefore still the most common way of screening items that pass through security checkpoints. Although many x-ray machines are configured to automatically identify explosives, they cannot be relied on at 100%. They still lean heavily on the ability of the x-ray screener to identify threats.

For this reason, we have compiled a list of the key capabilities required to identify well concealed threats and become a successful screener.


Security x-ray screening is a monotonous task that requires deep concentration for as much as 30 minutes.

On busy security checkpoints, screeners only have a few seconds to identify each bag. They must therefore find the right balance between analysis and speed.

The perfect screener needs to have confidence in their ability to detect a threat. Not enough confidence and the screener will send too many items for search or deliberate too long on a bag, creating queues and annoyed passengers.

Attention to Details

If an IED is well concealed within an item, the item may only have small anomalies. In a packed bag these small differences can be almost impossible to detect.

The likelihood that a screener comes into contact with a concealed IED is very low and this only increases the level of attention to details that is required.

It means a screener must treat each bag that goes through the x-ray machine with the same high level of attention. Something that after 20 minutes of screening is very hard to maintain.

Visual Dexterity

An x-ray machine generally only produces two x-ray angles of each bag that passes through it. Items will therefore not always be at the optimum angle for x-ray screeners to identify.

Screeners must possess some visual dexterity in order for them to virtually rotate the items in their mind and identify them correctly.

Threat Knowledge

Without knowing what a threat looks like, it’s impossible to identify it. When it’s an IED that’s been concealed in another item, it’s even more difficult.

Given the evolving nature of threats, screeners need to be given continuous training and testing to ensure they can identify them.


Experience is not something you can get overnight but if you work at it, you can get it quicker. The use of realistic simulators like Simfox can help accelerate the learning process.

Getting experience isn’t always about spending days on end in front of an x-ray simulator. In this case quality is far better than quantity. It’s all about getting focused training that improves the weaknesses of each individual screener.

Knowing your weaknesses helps and with Simfox; trainers are able to identify it quickly through an easy to use statistical interface. The information can then be used to create training that will help the screener improve on their weakness.

Click here to get more information about Renful Premier Technologies and the security training products we provide. 


Pre-M presented at International Test Comission Conference

This year marked Renful’s first participation at the International Test Commission conference in Amsterdam.

The conference featured a number of interesting presentations from top psychologists on Modern Advances in Assessment including Testing and Digital Technology and recent Developments in Theory of Testing.

Our resident Psychologist, Yehuda Esformes, provided a very well received lecture about his work on Pre-M; Renful’s Pre-employment testing software for security screeners.

The presentation provided a demonstration and explanation of the simulation tests available on Pre-M and the advantages over conventional testing it provides to managers when recruiting security personnel.

Here’s the abstract from Yehuda’s lecture:

Simulation tests for Aviation Security Staff: Incremental validity over conventional psychometric tests.

Simulation tests, like other similar assessment methods, are deemed to have a higher face validity and greater fairness than conventional tests. They are also considered to be more reliable and more valid. Given the continuing threat to civil aviation, and with the aim of improving the selection of aviation security personnel, we developed a computer based test battery tailored specifically for selecting X=ray baggage screeners (BAT-XR).

The battery includes both conventional visual perception tests  (colour perception, mental rotation, visual closure and sustained focused attention), and simulation tests (basic image interpretation, object recognition-superimposition, attention to anomalies).

All tests were designed on the basis of job task analysis. The objective of our study was to determine whether the simulation tests offer additional advantages over conventional tests in terms of incremental validity.

The BAT-XR and a set of four cognitive tests commonly used in Israel for primary selection were administered to 206 candidates for the position of X-ray baggage screener. The criterion was the participant’s ability to quickly detect threat articles in X-ray images of bags.

A series of hierarchical regression analyses revealed that after controlling for age and gender, the simulation tests were significantly more powerful predictors than conventional tests.

And finally…

Our minds thoroughly prodded and probed by a number of the world’s top psychologists, we’ll need to rest our brains for a few days.

Fortunately, we’ve come back brimming with a number of new and exciting ideas and technologies that you can expect to be implemented into Pre-M, Simfox and a number of our other computer based security training and testing packages.

We’ll keep you posted.

Training, Monitoring & Management of Security Screeners

11th, 12th and 13th June, London 

In June 2012, Renful will be holding a seminar in London dealing specifically with the Training, Monitoring & Management of Security Screeners. The seminar lasts 3 days, features informative lectures, multimedia presentation, discussions and expert analysis from our security experts.

Renful is dedicating this seminar to the promotion of creative thinking in the areas of Security X-ray Simulation Training and Testing, Effective Screening Operation Design and the Management and Monitoring of Operational Readiness.

Effective Screening Operations & X-ray Simulation Training and Testing

It is commonly known that probability of threat detection relates directly to the level of training and testing of the X-ray operator, and to the design and implementation of procedures in the operational environment.

Our key note speaker on this subject will be Moshe Cohen, former Director of Training and Commercial Development at TWA, who will introduce a number of training and operational design ideas and technologies that ensure your screening personnel are of the highest possible quality.

Management and Monitoring of Operational Readiness

A security system is only as strong as its weakest link. If one component within it is not ready to meet the threat, the whole operation is at risk.

Security managers must, therefore, be able to identify weaknesses within their security system and be able to correct them immediately.

Benny Landshut, founder and manager of the security training and procedures department at Ben Gurion Airport, will discuss the management of employee qualification, training, re-training and certification requirements and provide suggestions for monitoring the readiness of single employees, units, departments and equipment within an organization ensuring that compliance and performance standards are being maintained.

A compelling argument for Passenger Profiling at Airports


A recent failed plot by al-Quaeda in Yemen again shows the lengths terrorists are willing to take to get past security and cause havoc over our skies.

This new underwear bomb provides another challenge to our Airports’ security measures; that would most likely not have been able to detect it

  1. The IED would have been worn by the terrorist, completely bypassing what is considered the most effective tool in the detection of threats; the security x-ray machine.
  2. The IED contains no metallic parts and would have gone through any metal detector without setting it off.
  3. The IED was concealed in underwear, an area that is avoided during initial body searches.
  4. It is most likely that the IED would not have been detected by body scanners given its location on the terrorist’s body. His thighs would most likely have covered the IED making any detection either extremely difficult or even impossible.

These findings do not put our traditional security measures in good light. It is clear to see that terrorists understand what it takes to get past current security measures and are now developing IEDs that will get past them without much risk.

The biggest problem is that security measures are very predictable. Each and every passenger from a toddler to a 90 year old man must get their bag screened by an x-ray machine and walk through a metal detector or body scanner.

In some cases they may be subject to a pat down search or their bags may be subject to additional searches using explosive trace detectors.

However, these extra security measures are very rare and terrorists are able to plan their attack without much fear that they will have to change them.

How do we detect a threat like this?

The first thing we need to identify is the types of security measures that could have detected the threat:

  1. A full strip search would have identified the threat. This measure is only taken very rarely once security staff have sufficient proof that the passenger represents a safety risk.
  2. Explosive Trace Detection systems may have been able to identify the IED if the terrorist had contaminated his luggage or clothes with explosive residue.

Why don’t we just ask all passengers to remove their clothes and get their possessions swiped by a machine?

First of all, I’m pretty sure a number of human rights groups might have something to say about it.

Secondly, if you decide to swipe everyone’s clothes and bags to find traces of explosives, you’ll probably have to ask them to show up 2 days prior to their flight rather than the current 2 hours.

Airports, Airlines and passengers would never accept this.

So what’s the solution?

While this all seems a bit negative, the important thing to remember is that these findings show that the problem is not that we can’t identify a pair of concealed underpants; it is that we don’t have the time.

All we need to do is use our time a little bit more effectively.

For this, we need to forget about detecting the IED and concentrate more on identifying the terrorist.

Past events show us that while terrorists are good at concealing IEDs, they are not so good at hiding the fact that they are terrorists.

For example, although the original underwear bomber, Abdulmutallab, managed to get through security, his appearance at the security checkpoint should have raised a number of suspicions.

He paid for a $3000 ticket in cash; a very expensive transaction that most people would use a credit card for. You might also expect someone who likes to pay in cash to actually have some on him. At least enough for his 2 week stay. In fact, he only had a few notes.

Other strange signs were the fact he had not checked any luggage for his 2 week stay and did not have a coat, despite the temperature at the flight’s destination being sub zero.

In spite of these clear signs, Abdulmutallab managed to clear security and get onto his flight. Fortunately, the bomb failed and nobody was hurt.

How can we stop this happening again?

The use of profiling within the security checkpoint would have been able to identify all these signs.

It involves trained profilers going through the security checkpoint queue asking passengers a set of questions based on any suspicious signs in their documentation, itinerary, appearance and behaviour.

The profiler then decides based on the passenger’s behaviour and answers whether they are a threat to the flight they are attempting to board.

An old lady in a wheel chair, for example, is extremely unlikely to be a terrorist and would most likely be classed as a terrorist.

She should get minimal security checks.

On the other hand, a 25 year old man that cannot tell you the nearest train station to where he claims to live would be considered a high security risk.

He should be screened using all available methods until security staff are satisfied he poses no threat to the security of the airplane.

This effectively means that only those that pose a security risk will be screened using all available methods and ensures only those that pose a valid security risk are kept waiting in line at the airport.

Renful Security Seminaras – Profiling

Renful hold a number of profiling seminars each year that teach security personnel the skills required to perform effective behavioural analysis and questioning techniques.

The seminar is taught by Moshe Cohen, the former head of security at TWA, who has developed a number of profiling systems at Airports throughout the world.

It teaches the knowledge required to implement a Profiling System within all high security organisations in order to help reduce delays and increase passenger throughput, whilst actually enhancing security.

For more information about our profiling courses, please contact us at info@renful.co.uk or visit our website http://www.renful.co.uk/Security-Seminars-from-Renful-Premier-Technologies