Staten Island Ferries deploy explosives scanners

They have been tested, designed to detect anyone in crowd with explosives The federal Transportation Security Administration has added a dozen futuristic weapons to its anti-terrorism arsenal, based on a successful test of the equipment last spring in the St. George Ferry Terminal.

Ferry passengers may remember the two detectors resembling huge white telescopes that were tested in the waiting room as part of the three-week global debut of the millimeter wave scanners.

The scanners don't emit anything; rather they receive the wavelength of energy that naturally emits from the human body. If an explosive is present, it physically blocks the body's energy, leaving a void on the scan.

The scans are done in real time, with a live video image of individual passengers appearing on a monitor. An indicator changes color to let screeners know if a threat is present. Green signifies no danger, while yellow or red might suggest the presence of a bomb. If something suspicious is detected, the passenger can be subjected to a follow-up check.

The screeners who monitor the scans will see only the color-coded energy reading. They won't be able to see through anyone's clothes.

With a price tag of a little under $260,000, the 12 devices purchased by the TSA are smaller versions of the test model. The devices are made by QinetiQ, a British company.

But though the technology was rolled out here on Staten Island, selected because of the high constant foot-traffic at the ferry terminal, it is unknown if the devices will be installed at the ferry, or any other local transit hubs. A TSA spokeswoman said the deployment schedule for the machines has not been finalized.

The scanners are particularly effective in mass transit stations, because large groups of passengers can be checked without slowing down anyone rushing to catch a boat, train, or bus.

The devices were purchased as part of $52.3 million in contracts to procure new technology, including scanners that can test bottled liquids, and devices that can screen casts, bandages or prosthetics for hidden threats. Advanced X-ray technology and automated explosive detection units were also purchased.