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Next wave of railway security to be tested at PATH station

(The following article by David A. Michaels was posted on Bergen.com on July 12.)

BERGEN, N.J. -- Forget about security guards dumping out your purse on a desk. The next era of railroad security might mean stepping into a hexagonal portal, where millimeter waves hitting your body help create a digital image that alerts authorities to hidden weapons and explosives.

The devices, which will be active for two weeks at Exchange Place starting Thursday, will not seriously slow down passengers and pose no threat to personal privacy or health risk, officials said. During peak times, riders will be randomly selected for screening. At other hours, all riders will be screened.

"This is an effort to get at explosives," said Douglas Bauer, acting program executive for the Department of Homeland Security's science and technology office.

The exhibition of two machines Tuesday took place less than a week after local and federal authorities detailed a Lebanese suspect's plot to bomb PATH train tunnels under the Hudson River. Earlier in the day, bombs exploded on commuter trains in Bombay, India, killing at least 190 people.

The machines unveiled Tuesday do not create an actual photograph of the object, as an X-ray machine would, but create a grainy image that informs authorities of a dense object hidden under clothing. Millimeter waves are used in technology ranging from cellphones to radar systems.

If the machines pick up a threat, a person would be further screened with a handheld metal detector, officials said.

One machine, the BIS-WDS Prime, screens a person's front and back with two devices that look like large speakers. A blue image of the body is projected on a computer screen.
But any unusual, dense shapes – such as a backpack under clothing – would show up as a dark spot visible to analysts.

"You might pick up the shape of something that looks like drugs, that looks like a gun, or that looks like that could be a suicide vest," Bauer said.

The images are "not high enough resolution to be revealing in any fashion," said Eric Varley, technical leader for the Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico.

The machine permits authorities to screen up to 720 passengers per hour, according to Brijot Imaging Systems of Orlando, the manufacturer.

The company is promoting the device for mass transit applications "such as the recently uncovered terrorist plot targeting New York and New Jersey's PATH transit line."

Anthony R. Coscia, the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said he was not fond of using news of the plot to promote a product. But he noted his belief that private-sector technology will provide the long-term answer for security.

"You want to encourage innovation," Coscia said. "On the other hand, it's troubling that people turn it into a profit-making operation."

A second machine, called ProVision, is a portal that a person enters to be screened. The machine transmits a red image of the body to a computer screen. Any unusual shapes appear white.

ProVision, made by L3 Communications of New York, processes the image in only a few seconds, officials said Tuesday. The company's Web site says the portals are used by the military in Iraq's Green Zone.

The two-week program, which will cost taxpayers $5 million, is the second phase of the department's rail security project. There is no timetable to permanently install the devices being used in the test. The first phase, in February, used X-ray machines and metal detectors.

Coscia said he was pleased that federal authorities have paid attention to rail security and partnered with the Port Authority, which owns the PATH system.

"This is not going to end anytime soon," he said of rail security efforts. "We will all be looking at different ways to find a needle in a haystack."

Several PATH riders said they would be pleased to experience new safety measures.
"I see the police presence, but it doesn't make me feel any better," said John Nichols, a property manager from Jersey City. "It's not as if they can stop everyone or [hand] check all the bags."

Said Victor Felix, a rider who works in private security in Jersey City: "After what happened this morning in India, I am afraid this will happen here next."

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

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