March 25, 2005

LAX to get new bomb-detection device

BY Toby Eckert
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON--Another layer of security is being added at Los Angeles International Airport, in the form of a high-tech bomb detection device, federal officials said Friday.

The Explosives Detection Trace Portal utilizes a puff of air to detect residues of bomb-making materials on passengers.

The machines, commonly referred to as EDTs, resemble a wide metal detector. When passengers step into them, several puffs of air are released. The air is then analyzed for traces of explosives.

Security experts say the machines are an improvement over standard explosive-detection devices because they can ferret out plastic explosives and other non-metallic material. That includes the high explosive hexogen, which terrorists used to down two Russian airliners last year.

It is still uncertain where the portal will be placed at LAX, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration said. The TSA is a federal agency that oversees security at all U.S. airports and is deploying the portals as part of a $2.4 million pilot program.

Only select passengers will be screened by the machines.

"It will be passengers identified for secondary screening," TSA spokeswoman Amy van Walter said. "It may be random or it may be that they set off a metal detector."

Four other airports are receiving identical equipment, including San Francisco International. Nine airports are already using the portals, including San Diego's Lindbergh Field.

"We've seen success with the trace portals and will continue to deploy the equipment," von Walter said. "We certainly look at these as a high-tech replacement for pat-down inspections."

Some travelers have complained that the pat downs are intrusive and humiliating.

Each portal costs around $160,000. A similar machine that can detect explosives residue on drivers licenses and other documents is already in use at LAX and several other airports.