People-Screening Equipment Sales Rise as Threats Intensify, IHS Reports

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LONDON — Revenue from global sales of equipment used to screen people for explosives, weapons and contraband is forecast to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.6% over the 2018-2023 forecast period, according to IHS Markit.

Several emerging technologies, including millimeter and terahertz waves, have entered the commercial space, helping to address challenges to passenger screening at airports. These technologies can be expected to increase security in other applications and better protect visitors at large event venues and in open areas, according to the IHS Market report, “Explosives, Weapons and Contraband Detection Equipment.”

Sources of Threats

Public transportation and event security face many challenges, with the global rise in suicide bombings, public-area shootings and knife attacks. Traditional event security has focused on manual searches of bags or the use of bag X-ray scanners and metal detectors to check for weapons or other contraband. Yet X-ray bag scanning and metal detection are time-consuming processes that significantly prolong the time it takes to enter and exit an area.

In the case of public transportation hubs, security is provided by video surveillance and monitoring to spot threats. However, operators will not be able to spot all unusual behaviors, and they will not be able to assess whether a suspicious situation involves explosives, states Anna Sliwon-Stewart, an IHS market research analyst.

“Open areas are even more difficult to protect, prompting work on equipment as part of a concept of stand-off detection, where scanning for explosives or contraband can be performed at a distance from the potential source,” she says.

Utilizing Terahertz Technology

Terahertz technology, specifically, offers a solution to these challenges by allowing the scanning of a large number of people without requiring them to stop for a security check. This is particularly vital for high-throughput areas such as train stations or open areas.

Even though the detection process is more challenging due to high speed of people’s movement, machine learning and analytics can help improve the accuracy of the detection process. This will help reduce false alarms, which can be a particular challenge in such complex environments, Sliwon-Stewart says.

Terahertz devices are also small enough to be deployed in inconspicuous, strategic spots around the area, which can help extend the security perimeter away from the most sensitive parts and avoid impeding the flow of people.

Another benefit of terahertz devices is that they do not emit radiation, and instead only read gaps in natural radiation emitted by human body. This is an important factor in addressing concerns over long-term safety of exposure to various types of radiation, Sliwon-Stewart says.

Barriers to Adoption

Deployment of people-screening devices in non-traditional applications such as event venues and public transportation stations is likely to elicit controversy and may inadvertently create a feeling of panic. Even though the industry has successfully managed to commercialize terahertz technology, its practical application may require much more testing before wider deployment is possible.

Also, in case of a positive detection, the details of operational response by police or security services would have to be carefully elaborated to prevent panic and disruption, Sliwon-Stewart explains.

False positives and negatives can be particularly problematic in public transportation settings as people usually rush for trains to get to workplaces and appointments. Any further disruptions to their journeys would have a negative impact on the railroads’ business and customer satisfaction, with the disruption being blamed on the train companies.

Also, terahertz devices cannot be treated as a panacea for the expected threats. Furthermore, if there is a false negative detection that results in an incident, the backlash against the technology may be significant.

Technology as Force Multiplier

The threat environment is constantly changing, and attackers continue to devise new ways of inflicting harm. Technology can help reduce some of these risks and aid law enforcement in tackling daily security challenges.

“The cost and size of equipment will play a very strong role in choosing solutions. However, the equipment’s capability to be connected to local security systems for easy access and assessment of situations by law enforcement will be an important parameter as well,” Sliwon-Stewart says.

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