Walk, Screen and Detect
In October 2007, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced that it would award $52.3 million in contracts to deploy security technology piloted at airports and mass transit facilities. One of these technologies, passive millimeter wave from QinetiQ North America, McLean, Va., brings enhanced screening equipment to the nation’s travelers.
For $3 million, TSA purchased 12 SPO-7R Standoff Suicide Bomb Detector threat detection units from the international defense and security company. The technology started as a solution in the United Kingdom, and according to Wally Miller, managing director of transport security for QinetiQ, this product is an offshoot of that development. The passive technology measures the natural waves emitted by the human body from up to 22 feet away and determines any anomalies detected on an individual. “It can be described as a differential radiometer,” Miller says. “It does not transmit anything at you — it just looks at you.”
The tripod-mounted detector is integrated with visible pan/tilt cameras, but does not create an image. The operator looks at the subject of interrogation and is notified if something is detected as “cold” on the body. This “cold”-like perception is given when metal objects reflect the source. Objects such as plastics and ceramics also have reflective properties and can also be distinguished. Clothing is made largely transparent by the system, allowing for detection of highly concealed items.
Once an anomaly is detected, a threat bar indicator will turn red, giving a degree of strength it found on the individual, thus prompting the operator to search the individual.
“It does not determine what is on him, but it says that something is on him that allows for that individual to deserve more attention,” Miller says.
Because of the pass/fail system on the SPO-7R, Miller says training only takes a couple of hours. And since the passive system is combined with software algorithms to screen one person at a time, passengers are not asked to slow their pace, thus allowing for a smooth-moving transportation environment.
TSA has recently deployed test trials of QinetiQ’s SPO-20 at the Staten Island ferry terminal and Pier 90 in New York City. The SPO-20, which has a detection range of about 65 ft., was originally part of a development in the U.K. and was further developed under contract to the U.S. Navy’s explosive ordnance detection effort.
Though both the SPO-20 and SPO-7R are robust and have all-weather functionality, TSA is acquiring the SPO-7R. Because the SPO-7R is a great deal smaller, weighing in at 279 lbs. less than the SPO-20, the portability of the product provides a more rapid deployment capability for transportation facilities. These facilities will use the SPO-7Rs in a wide range of both permanent and semi-permanent installations, including mobile checkpoints and building entrances.
Miller believes that the threat detection system will offer a great deal in providing security into the nation’s transportation infrastructure. “This is the first deployment, that I am aware of, that provides standoff detection. It trades distance for time,” Miller says. “And importantly, it offers significant advantages in a layered security environment.”
TSA Administrator and Assistant Secretary Kip Hawley says the purchase of this system and others will enhance the suite of technologies while improving security. “Better technology leverages the skills of our officers more efficiently and improves our ability to adapt in real-time to changes in the threat environment.”