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Friday, November 8, 2013

Sniffing out explosives: Scanner would allow police to locate bomb factories from sewers


Sniffing out explosives: Scanner would allow police to locate bomb factories from sewers

Reuters / Luke MacGregor

An EU-funded research group is working on a project that could allow police to track bomb-making labs from below. The $6 million project involves sensors installed in sewers that detect chemical waste dumped in the production of explosives.
Dubbed EMPHASIS, the project of the Swedish Defense Research Agency (FOI) will enable police to prevent terrorist acts carried out with improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Some of the bombers involved in recent terrorist attacks, such as those behind the July 7, 2005 London bombings, have been able to produce homemade explosives by using private kitchens and bathrooms, with little or no attempt to conceal their activities.

Police have only been able to locate such improvised labs by relying on tip-offs or intelligence, and by searching suspicious buildings, as they lack scientific detection equipment, according to the FOI.

“A system like EMPHASIS would allow law enforcement agencies to become proactive, to act during a phase where there is low threat to citizens and thus prevent production during a time where alternative response actions can be exploited,” the project’s website says.
Image by Swedish Defense Research Agency (foi.se)
Image by Swedish Defense Research Agency (foi.se)

EMPHASIS stands for Explosive Material Production Hidden Agile Search and Intelligence System. While its core technology lies in special detection rods filtering wastewater, it involves a command center analyzing processed data and alarms, and a special police team with a high resolution sensing unit tasked with pinpointing the sites of IED production on the ground.
An infrared laser will be used for detecting gas molecules of the chemicals sought, narrowing down the search to a particular spot.

According to the FOI research team’s chief, Hans Onnerud, the system’s “ion selective electrodes” were successfully lab-tested in October, and will undergo real-life tests in a wastewater flow next year.

“In the long run, a commercially available system of these types that has a capacity to be used for tracking bomb factories would offer a huge advantage to police authorities,” Onnerud said. 
Reuters / Luke MacGregor
Reuters / Luke MacGregor

Moreover, the authorities of some EU member states have shown interest in widening the areas of the system’s application.

“We are thinking about illicit drugs detection and this could be the next aim we focus on,” said the project’s sensor specialist, Frank Schnuerer, of the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology in Karlsruhe, Germany.

The European Union has been funding the EMPHASIS program with €4.5 million ($6 million), according to a report published in the New Scientist magazine.