See-all security system developed at PNNL

By John Trumbo, Herald staff writerJanuary 2, 2010 

The see-all security system that uses advanced millimeter wave technology to detect potential threats concealed anywhere on a human body was developed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.

The imaging technology, which initially was used in the garment industry to produce precise-fitting clothing, has been licensed to L-3 Communications in New York, said Staci West, a spokeswoman for PNNL.

Now in use at 19 airports across the U.S., L-3 Communications' ProVision system enables security personnel to obtain a full-body view of a subject without them removing their clothes or being subjected to a physical pat-down.

The millimeter wave technology provides a "stripped-down" visual of the body, which can reveal any hidden objects attached to or contained within the body, said Dwayne Baird, public information manager in Salt Lake City for the Transportation Security Administration.

Baird would not say what plans there may be for expanding use to other airports nationwide, but noted that TSA continually evaluates security measures "as events happen."

He said TSA officials decided in September to use some federal economic stimulus money to buy more full-body imaging systems of a different kind, called Rapid-Scan, to be installed at various airports in early 2010.

"We are definitely headed in that direction," Baird said.

PNNL staff engineer Doug Makin went global with the wave system two years ago after spending several years perfecting the holographic scanning technology. It earned him a homeland security award in 2007 because of its potential to change how security scanning is done.

The innovative security scanning system has been tested in pilot programs at 75 sites around the world, including courtroom security for Saddam Hussein's trial in Iraq three years ago.

Millimeter wave technology can take photographs of people under their clothing to find hidden weapons. But it uses nonradioactive electromagnetic waves to produce images.

L-3 Communications ProVision system is a walk-through portal that uses millimeter waves to form images of people without need for X-rays, hand-held wands or pat-downs.

Baird said going through a millimeter wave portal takes a few seconds longer than with the more common X-ray portals used at courthouses, federal buildings and most airports.

But most people have not objected to the new system.

"Of the 1,960 people who went through Salt Lake City on Tuesday, only three opted out," he said.

Because of the ability to see an image of a full body, unclothed, millimeter wave systems are operated so the person seeing the image is in a remote area where he cannot also view the person being scanned, Baird explained.

"It helps ensure privacy," he said.

Of the 19 locations across the country where millimeter wave scanning is being used, none are in Washington, Oregon or Idaho. Airports at San Francisco, Denver, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Los Angeles use the system.

Others airports using the security technology are located west of the Rockies, generally in southern states, and at Baltimore and Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C.

-- John Trumbo: 582-1529; jtrumbo@tricityherald.com

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