Suicide vest detectors coming to Penn Station

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Amtrak and TSA are testing technology designed to detect concealed explosives. (TSA)

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is testing new security technology that is supposed to be able to detect whether someone is concealing an improvised explosive device such as a suicide vest. The test will take place at Pennsylvania Station in Midtown Manhattan.

According to the TSA, as an individual passes by the device, it can detect the presence of a potential threat object by passively assessing naturally occurring emissions from the human body. If it identifies the presence of a potential threat it will alarm on the operator’s laptop used to control the device. 

The TSA is partnering with Amtrak for the test and it will take place on the Amtrak concourse, which is shared with NJ Transit.

The Feds claim that use of the devices will help safeguard against terrorist threats on mass transit. TSA is supplying two models of the equipment for the test.

The test comes after attempted subway terror attack last year in the city.  Authorities say a Bangladeshi immigrant strapped an improvised explosive device to his body on December 11, 2017 and was in a subway corridor near the Port Authority Bus Terminal.  It apparently exploded early and the alleged bomber was the only person seriously injured.

The TSA has been working on the experimental devices, known as standoff explosive detection units, since 2004 with transit agencies. The technology has also been used to secure large events like the 2014 Super Bowl and was tested by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority in December. It hasn't been deployed permanently at any transit hub because it's still under development.

The QinetiQ SPO-NX screening devices used in one of Los Angeles' busiest stations, the 7th Street Metro downtown, resemble white television cameras on tall tripods. The machines screen people at a distance without slowing them down. If a potential threat is detected, it will trigger an alarm on an operator's laptop.

Unlike airport screening systems, the equipment projects scanning waves at people rather than having them walk through a scanner. The machines scan for metallic and non-metallic objects on a person's body.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.