2
Detection of Black and Smokeless Powder Devices

Introduction

Of all the approaches to reducing bombing incidents, detecting a bomb prior to explosion is the most attractive, since it provides an opportunity to render the bomb safe before it can cause death, injury, or property damage. Fixed, portal bomb detection systems are already used to screen bags and packages coming into some highly vulnerable locations, such as airports and federal buildings. Portable x-ray detection systems and specially trained dogs are also used in responses to reports of suspicious packages or bomb threats. As mentioned in Chapter 1, however, the majority of the bombs that cause casualties or significant property damage each year in the United States explode in locations where detectors are unlikely to be deployed.1

Since the 1970s, researchers have investigated the possibility that special ''markers" might be added to explosive materials to facilitate the detection of bombs that use these materials. This research took on a special urgency after a small quantity of plastic explosive was used to bring down a Pan American airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1989 (NRC, 1998). Plastic and sheet explosives concealed in luggage or electronic devices are difficult to detect by x-ray systems. In addition, they typically have such a low vapor pressure that they

1  

According to ATF data for 1992 to 1994, a total of 26 of 27 deaths and 167 of 199 injuries from propellant and pyrotechnic bombs occurred in locations where installation of detectors was deemed unlikely (see Table 1.4).



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