Reiss hears that most people equate these to black and white photographs, and feels that helps to describe the ZBV images. In discussing a scan of a pickup truck with a stowaway: "You can see an image of a pickup truck, you can see kind of what looks like a person hiding in the back … [even if] you've never seen one of these before you can tell that's a person.
"Problems depend on where you are, whether it be a border security application or guarding against unlawful access, they can find people pretty easily," he adds.
At about six to seven miles an hour the ZBV is able to complete a scan of a passenger vehicle in up to 10 seconds. AS&E reports that its customers have used the van in a multitude of ways such as security procedures, securing public-event areas and vehicle-born IED detection.
In more customer examples, one agency was able to find a significant number of methamphetamine pills creatively hidden in an aftermarket rear-bumper on a vehicle, while another found barrels packed with sticks of dynamite. Like the luggage scans at the security checkpoint in airports, backscatter will not tell analysts what the material actually is — only that it is suspicious. "And that's the idea; a lot of times our customers can't do a physical search or bring in a dog team for every vehicle … it's just not practical," Reiss says. "This helps them target areas they think might pose a risk and that they want to investigate further."
The U.S. set guidelines published by American Nuclear Society & Education and utilized by the FDA with the Center for Devices and Radiological Health and Health Physics Society. The guidelines set radiation exposure limits for non-medical X-ray exposures.
According to Reiss, the AS&E ZBV's radiation exposure is lower than published guidelines. The unsettling fact is we are exposed to radiation all the time; the exposure received from the ZBV, "is less than what you would get from flying in an airplane," he says. "Just from the cosmic rays of the universe, you get 200 times of exposure everyday as opposed to one scan."
Currently AS&E are in contract with the Technology Support Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based national interagency research and development program for combating terrorism requirements at home and abroad, in efforts to develop solutions for the bomb squad community.
With 46 countries as customers, AS&E knows that each agency and demographic area presents a unique situation and issues. Aside from the already well-known X-ray scanning, "this technology gives them a tool that they just don't have otherwise," says Reiss. n
Editor's note: The Explosives Detection 2009 Symposium and Workshop will be held Oct. 20 to 23 in San Diego, Calif. Additional information can be found at www.tswg.gov.
American Science & Engineering (AS&E) released a number of anecdotes from customers throughout the world describing their experiences using the Z Backscatter Van (ZBV).
- Iraq — Officials utilized two ZBVs along the borders of the Basra Province, according to a Colonel in the Multinational Division in UPI Energy in October 2007. The ZBVs operated as part of a security program to increase protection at ports of entry. The Colonel also noted that the ZBV's capabilities are significant enhancements to the traditional screening procedures.
- Singapore — The country's Immigration and Checkpoints Authority officers uncovered 1,484 cartons and 158 packets of smuggled cigarettes in a bus hidden under floorboards. The potential customs duties for the duty-unpaid cigarettes totaled about $79,000, according to AsiaOne in March of 2009. AsiaOne also reported in September of 2008 that the ZBV was used to interdict Singapore's largest haul of illegal tobacco products that year when a bus driver tried to smuggle them into the country through the Tuas Checkpoint.
- Middle East/Africa — Officials utilized the ZBV at a border crossing and found 1,042 kilograms of marijuana in the false wall of a delivery truck — the largest drug bust in the country's history, according to Al-Chourouk Newspaper in February of 2008. The ZBV clearly revealed the smuggled goods, and the security officials were able to seize the drugs, which had a street value of approximately $5 million.