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Standards for Explosives Detection

FEW IN THE security profession rely as much on their equipment as explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technicians. Yet EOD leaders lack formal means to assess a product’s performance and reliability, because no sector-wide standards exist. As a result, procurement choices have often been made based on word-of-mouth recommendations and the popularity of different products, says Lt. Jeff Fuller, commander of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division’s Bomb Squad and chairman of the National Bomb Squad Commanders Advisory Board (NBSCAB). The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to change that.

DHS is in the process of drafting a national suite of standards covering all aspects of explosives defense, from structural mitigation measures to detection technology, response equipment, bomb dogs, training, and operations. The agency’s Explosives Standards Working Group (ESWG), composed of representatives from various federal agencies and major stakeholder groups, is overseeing the process.

The planned standards would be used as compliance requirements for spending federal funds, like annual DHS grants to states and localities, but they would also serve as a much-needed guide for internal procurement and procedures, says ESWG chair Joseph Kunkle, who is a transportation security specialist/EOD with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

The standards may also serve as a guide for the private sector. Companies hiring contracting services may require that contractors are compliant, says Michael R. Bouchard, CPP, corporate security manager of Lenoir City, Tennessee-based EOD Technology Inc. and chair of the ASIS International Global Terrorism, Political Instability, and International Crime Council. Bouchard is ASIS’s representative to ESWG.

While some of the planned standards may be drafted “from scratch,” ESWG will consider adopting existing sector standards where acceptable, Kunkle says. NBSCAB, for example, offers training standards and is currently developing guidelines for equipment such as bomb suits, device disruptors, and portable x-ray machines, Fuller says. Similarly, the international Scientific Working Group on Dog and Orthogonal Detector Guidelines has completed nearly all of nine guidelines for canine detection.

TSA currently sets its own standards for the explosives-detection equipment used at the country’s airport security checkpoints, including today’s advanced technology (AT) baggage x-ray machines and the explosives trace detection (ETD) “sniffers” fielded over the past years. Those specific standards, however, are threat-based and, thus, classified.

Peter Kant, vice president of global government affairs for Rapiscan, which supplies most of TSA’s AT x ray machines, says that his company plans to participate in the ESWG standards-development process. The standards, he says, would be of immense benefit for state and local agencies, but those bodies must craft some of the specifics to their needs. Standards for explosives detection devices, for example, should be tiered for different sensitivities in different threat environments, such as a county courthouse versus an airport.

DHS has not set a timeframe for completing the standards, but Kunkle notes that other groups, like the National Institute of Justice, have generated standards in months. He acknowledges, however, that working up standards for electronic countermeasures against improvised explosive devices will take longer than those for static technology like bomb containment devices.

Chuck Call, CEO of ICx Technologies’ biodefense unit, has been participating in a parallel DHS effort to establish testing standards for biological threats. The program has, thus far, produced a draft standard for DNA tests for anthrax; the suite as a whole may take another three to five years, he says.

“You’d always like it to go faster, but, by definition, it has to be a group process,” Call says.

The process is only just beginning, and there’s an opportunity for security professionals in the field to submit suggestions regarding specifics. Kunkle says that ESWG seeks input from any and all stakeholders, from first responders and vendors to engineers and research scientists.

“These standards will affect you somewhere down the line,” he says. “Don’t let the system manage you, manage the system.”

Anyone interested in commenting on or contributing to standards development can contact Kunkle directly by phone at 571/227-5127 or via e-mail [email protected]