WASHINGTON - In the wake of the attempted suicide bombing at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Times Square, cities across the nation are testing technology that could help detect suicide vests in major transit hubs.
The Transportation Security Administration has been working with five passenger rail and transit agencies to test this type of security equipment since 2004. The agencies include Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District, the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department and the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority.
The machines are designed for train and subway stations, and security experts tell FOX 5 screening technology already exists at airports - but is lacking at major transit hubs for train and subway travelers.
The technology works by detecting the natural emissions that radiate from a person's body. When something - like a suicide vest - is blocking those emissions, the machine identifies the threat and alerts authorities. It works on both metallic and non-metallic objects.
The American Public Transportation Association beckoned to what happened in Times Square on Monday as one key reason the machines are needed in major subway and train hubs.
"I think authorities would agree that if they'd deployed that type of technology there, the device that was worn this week could have been detected," explained Polly Hanson, the Director of Transit Security and Emergency Management for American Public Transportation Association. "That's why this technology was developed - for somebody carrying explosives on their person. The reliability of the equipment is very strong. So I think people are anxious to see this eventually deployed wider."
APTA says these machines are already commercially available. The problem though, is lack of money. Funding for the Transit Security Grant Program has gone down significantly in recent years.
In addition, allocation of funds is not proportionate to the need. According to APTA, funding for aviation security is in the billions, but aviation travelers number in the millions. Funding for transit security is in the millions, but travelers number in the billions.
Until the technology is fully implemented, APTA wants to remind the public to always be aware of their surroundings and to report any suspicious activity.