Tech Bytes

April 14, 2005
In order to measure the effectiveness, operability, and functionality of a technology it must be tested in a real-world environment.

In order to measure the effectiveness, operability, and functionality of a technology it must be tested in a real-world environment. The pilot programs the Transportation Security Administration is engaged in with airports across the nation are doing just that.

Speaking at the National Air Transportation Association's annual meeting in Las Vegas in March, Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security, TSA, Rear Admiral (ret.) David Stone says "technology is the answer" for security.

DHS, says Stone, is dedicating some $28 million toward an explosive trace portal pilot program, under which the Sentinel II from Smiths Detection has been deployed at JFK International, Jacksonville International, McCarran International and Baltimore-Washington International airports. He credits the technology as being "less intrusive" than other options.

The goal, says Stone, is to have 127 of these machines deployed throughout the U.S. by the end of 2005, which is a commitment of an additional $72 million.

Mark Laustra, VP, transportation security technology and programs, Smiths Detection, explains the purpose of the pilot is to "measure the impact on checkpoint operations."

The recent deployment at LAS will demonstrate to TSA how the portals work in a high-throughput airport, says Laustra. "People come in spurts at Las Vegas and the checkpoints can get really busy. This technology is perfect for Las Vegas."

The technology for the Sentinel II was developed in the mid-'90s, explains Laustra. "It's based on the same method we use to swab the outside of carry-on bags - ion mobility spectrometry - we're only collecting the sample differently."

With the electronic trace portal, a gentle flow of air passes over a person's body, dislodging any particles from hair, clothing, shoes, or skin. The particles are driven to the floor and sucked into a filter. The sample is then analyzed for explosives. The whole process takes only seven seconds, Laustra adds.

Slightly larger than a walk-through metal detector, the Sentinel II can be configured to detect some 40 types of explosives.

"The whole idea behind technology is to do it faster and better," says Laustra. "As a manufacturer, that's our goal. We feel the Sentinel is now a practical piece of equipment that the airports can use.

"TSA's initiative is to deploy effective technology that does not slow down the flow of commerce. That's the trick. Anybody can design a piece of equipment that detects explosives, but if it's not practical, what good is it?"

In a similar pilot program, TSA is testing a document scanner which tests items such as passports or drivers licenses for explosives.

"Instead of manually swabbing the document," explains Laustra, "the document is scanned by an arm that protrudes from the machine and it takes a sample to tell if there's any explosive residue on the document."

Smiths Detection, as a subcontractor on a project to explore the uses of terahertz technology, recently received a proof of concept grant from TSA. Looking ahead, Laustra says terahertz technology is a "very promising technology." The company is working with U.K.-based TeraView to develop the technology to detect explosives and/or contraband in baggage or on people.

Smiths Detection is also working on a mobile security checkpoint, which Laustra describes as a "20-foot container which houses a complete security checkpoint."

The checkpoint can be configured any way the customer sees fit and includes two x-rays and two metal detectors. The first of these has been delivered to the government of Russia and Laustra says Smiths Detection is looking to build one certified for use in the U.S.