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What is an Explosive Detection System?

By Dulce Corazon
Updated May 16, 2024
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An explosive detection system detects potential threats by scanning bags placed on any airplane, whether carry-on bags or bags checked in with the airline company. This explosive detection system works similarly to a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine found in most hospitals. It analyzes each bag and determines if the bag carries a potential security threat. When an explosive or weapon is detected on a bag, the explosive detection system quickly alerts security officers for proper response and handling of the situation. In some cases, a bomb squad is also called in for assistance.

The explosive detection system in United States (US) airports is generally maintained and implemented by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). It was first established by the TSA after the infamous 11 September 2001 attacks to reinforce security measures in most US airports. These explosive detection system machines are utilized in conjunction with the automated baggage handling set-up of an airport to ensure improved security and efficiency of their operations.

In 2005, the agency agreed to a contract with a company for the delivery of explosive detection system machines, spare parts, and services. The the machines were installed at the back of the conveyors that handle the baggage at airports. It was an advanced, permanent set-up that allowed improvements in the screening of all checked-in baggage for traces of explosives. This was also hailed as a more customer-friendly approach to security checking as passengers no longer have to bring their luggage to a separate area for screening. Passengers may simply drop off their baggage at designated ticket counters.

Systems similar to the explosive detection system have also been implemented to ensure security in other transportation-related areas. These include explosive trace portals that were put up to screen passengers in various airports of Boston, Baltimore, Florida and Las Vegas, among others. In this set-up, passengers have to pass through portals that are embedded with metal detectors, with puffs of air blown at them. Air samples are then studied for traces of explosives. If ever an alarm goes off, the passenger and his bags are made to undergo some more screening.

There is also the document scanner that sniffs documents for presence of explosive residues on papers. This system was implemented in 2004 in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles airports. Another equipment of this nature inclues the explosives trace detection system that is similar in size to a big suitcase. It works by analyzing the swab used on the baggage for any trace of explosives.

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