S&T and NIST Projects in Support of NYPD Explosive Trace Detection

Law enforcement officers from major metropolitan areas such as New York City face increasing challenges in screening for explosives and dangerous substances. High volume and fast throughput screening at public venues and urban environments high in pollutants and background substances can impede detection capabilities of explosives trace detectors.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) recently took part in a demonstration of the NYPD’s FIDO X-3 Explosive Trace Detection (ETD) system, under the sponsorship of S&T’s Secondary Screening Program led by S&T Program Manager Dr. Laura Parker. This event showcased work S&T funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to optimize NYPD trace detection processes in these areas.

 “A simple solution greatly increased the effectiveness of this important tool.  These improvements enhanced the detection capabilities of the FIDO X-3 even more than we had hoped,” Parker said. 

Dr. Greg Gillen, from the NIST Surface and Trace Chemical Analysis Group, demonstrated to the NYPD Counterterrorism Division (CTD) specific improvements to the FIDO X-3 system.  The work, funded by S&T, improved the effectiveness of the swabs used with the FIDO X-3 system. The swabs are used by screeners at checkpoints to collect particles from the objects they screen, which are run through an ETD system to check for hazardous material. NIST conducted tests to modify the swabs to increase the number of particles they could collect at a time. To date, 100 modified swabs have been delivered to NYPD for user assessment and feedback. The swabs will be used at security checkpoints to detect traces of explosive materials and other illegal substances.

“With the funding DHS S&T has provided, NIST has been at the forefront of developing curricula and training for transportation security officers on how to evaluate user proficiency in explosives trace sampling. NIST is very glad that we are now able to transition this vast array of knowledge we have gained over the years to NYPD through this project,” said Gillen.

In addition to improving the efficiency of swabs for real-time screening, NIST provided resources to assist NYPD trace detection training. They performed assessments to establish benchmarks for FIDO X-3 performance and used an inkjet printer to fabricate materials that could be used NYPD to evaluate their X-3 capabilities.

Inkjet printing is a method of producing substances that would register as hazardous but are small enough that screeners can safely use them to test and train with ETDs. The materials come at low cost, but with tremendous upside, promising significant improvement to the NYPD’s ability to assess the performance of their field-deployed ETDs. The NYPD can, as a result, more easily validate that their trace detection tools are operating to standard.

NYPD CTD Officer Jason Rubenstein stated, “DHS S&T’s support through this project allows the NYPD to leverage NIST’s years of experience with explosives characterization and detection. This helps enable us to stay ahead of evolving threats in our city.”

NIST continues to assist organizations like NYPD which utilize the FIDO X-3 with collaboration and funding from the DHS S&T Secondary Screening Technology Development Program and the DHS S&T Standards Division.

Not only do NYPD screeners gain access to better tools, training and best practices for explosives particle detection, but further development of standard operating procedures for swab sampling are expected to stem from the success of this project.

The improvements delivered through this work may result in more efficient screening for explosives residue at NYPD checkpoints, facilities and events, but they also benefit the wider Homeland Security Enterprise (HSE), which includes any DHS components who rely on trace explosives screening data and tools to do their part in keeping the nation secure.

The project demonstrates how the work performed by S&T’s Secondary Screening Technology Development Program and the Standards Division, with its partners, are making the checkpoint screening systems of the future a reality.

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