LOS ANGELES – A California company has developed a high-tech alternative to bomb-sniffing dogs, but recent cuts to mass transit security funding may prevent some bus and subway systems from taking advantage of the technology.
It’s called the Siegma System (search), a suitcase-sized device that has the ability to sniff out the chemicals associated with homemade bombs in as little as 15 seconds.
“This detector that we have here represents in comparison with all other detectors that we see at airports and elsewhere is like the color photography compared with black-and-white photography,” said Dr. Bogdan Maglich, of HiEnergy Technologies (search), the Orange County, Calif., company that developed the system.
The device works by showering an object in neutrons and measures the gamma rays that are emitted in response, determining what, if any, explosives are present.
“The attempts that in the past have failed have all been based on the technologies of the 19th century,” Maglich said. “X-Rays are a 19th century invention ... we are using essentially the 20th century technologies."
The devices cost around $300,000 each. Among the first transit agencies to purchase the system is the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (search) in Philadelphia, which purchased two of the devices.
But while mass transit advocates see new devices such as the Siegma System as a way to thwart terrorist attacks, they point out that the technology comes with a high price tag — and they say that Washington needs to help.
“Our industry has identified a need, a very practical need of six billion dollars,” said Greg Hull of the American Public Transportation Association (search), a Washington, D.C.,-based mass-transit lobbying organization.
“And we believe that if we are to receive those funds, that we'd be able to put them to good use, to help strengthen security for all of our riding public and all Americans.”
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the aviation industry has received more than $18 billion in federal funds to upgrade and enact security measures, while the nation’s bus and train systems have received around $250 million.
Congress had been moving toward cutting around $50 million from the mass transit security budget for 2006 but lawmakers began to reconsider the move following the July 7 London terror attacks.
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