Friday, July 27, 2007

Fireworks, Diapers and Chemical Screening

After several years of being designated "SSSS" and having my bags selected for "additional screening", due to the disproportionate amount of last-minute travel I do, I have become somewhat blase about the procedure. So you can imagine my surprise when my Sony Vaio laptop set off an alarm upon being swabbed for explosive residue at Palm Beach International.

For a moment, I didn't know quite how things would evolve... it is somewhat unsettling to hear the alarm go off and suddenly have the TSA team turn their attention to you.

Thankfully, they were relaxed about it. No guns were drawn. They tested the laptop a few more times, turned my laptop bag inside out, and finally felt okay enough about things to let me catch my flight.

It left me deeply curious about what could have caused it, however. As we discussed the issue, they asked me if my laptop had been near any explosive materials.

After a few minutes of thought, I realized my laptop *had* been near explosives - during a dinner party, I had briefly taken the laptop from our dinner table, and stored it under our stairs, in exactly the same place I had previously set down a couple of hundred dollars worth of (legal) Fourth of July fireworks.

The white-uniformed guy asking the questions smiled and nodded - it appears I was not the first executive in Florida to store a laptop and explosives in the same location.

Later, researching the situation online, it was revealed that false positives, far from being rare, are somewhat common at TSA checkpoints - somewhere in the order of 2-3%. In fact, a cursory look at the clipboard onto which my laptop was being written up revealed that there had been a half-page full over the previous few days.

Here's some info that will prevent your heart-rate rising if you're also targeted: One of the leading causes? Nitro-based statins (heart drugs) - which are not altogether uncommon in Palm Beach County.

Another frequent cause of false positives? Trace elements of nitrogen-based compounds in urine - most commonly caused when child seats are swabbed for explosive residue (hint for parents - change those diapers regularly).

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