The traditional emphasis on verifying the security status of passenger baggage has resulted in a technically sophisticated array of x-ray screening equipment that can automatically detect a variety of potential threats. A parallel area of development can be found with regard to enhancing the skills of screening staff. When looking for suspect items, operatives need to be well-trained and experienced in analysing x-ray images of baggage. Due to the growing range and sophistication of potential threats, security operatives are being challenged by an increasing and more complex workload against a background of ever-greater passenger numbers. Therefore, any assistance that technology can offer the screener is more than welcome.
Regular, specialist, operators' training courses ensure security and experience, leading to considerably improved detection rates for conventional weapons. However, results also show that explosives are often tricky to identify in an x-ray image.
Complex Explosive Substances
X-ray images of explosives can be difficult to distinguish from those of harmless organic objects. As explosives have no definite shapeor structure, the operator can often have no clear clues to help identify the potential threats, so in these cases, the effectiveness of their training can be rather limited. Covert testing results and the data from operational threat image-projection systems have shown thatthere is considerable room for improvement with regard to improving the screeners' ability to detect complex threats. Although the same staff has proved very able to detect guns and knives, it has become evident that the recognition of improvised explosive devices must be advanced if the industry is to achieve the highest standards of safety and security. It is, therefore, essential to support theoperator with the appropriate technology at this point. This assistance has become even more important with the 'appearance' of liquid explosive substances and we at Smith's Detection believe that extendingthe automated detection capability for screening carry-on baggage atpassenger checkpoints could reduce the possibility of threat materials entering the secure areas of airports.
There are already a number of operational x-ray inspection systemsin use that can detect commercial and military explosives as part ofthe automatic hold baggage screening process.
However, the new challenge for operatives and machines alike is the so-called binary or improvised explosive liquids, or their individual components. As their physical and chemical properties are difficult to distinguish from harmless liquids, the emergence of an alleged plot to use liquid-based explosives to destroy transatlantic airlines led to the introduction of a total ban on the carriage of liquids on passenger services back in August. Although this initial ban has since been relaxed, at the time of writing, the carriage of liquids is still restricted. As a result, Smiths Detection is addressing the need to enhance carry-on baggage screening capabilities through its development of the new HI-SCAN 6040aTiX x-ray inspection system for the automated detection of explosive threats. The starting point for the 6040aTiX was the proven explosives detection system (EDtS) concept for automatic explosives detection in checked baggage. If required, the HI-SCAN system is capable of 'alarming' any kind of non-solid baggage content--a tremendous advantage over current checkpoint security systems.