All eyes are on the packages and backpacks that make their way through Philadelphia's transit system. Not that the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority is more of a terrorist target than any other system. Rather, it's that SEPTA is adopting SIEGMA 3E3, a transit explosive detection system.
Jim Jordan, SEPTA's assistant general manager for safety, hopes that the suitcase-sized device will not only prevent a terrorist bomb from going off in the system but will also help reduce the subway and commuter train delays that occur when an unattended package comes to the authority's attention. A bomb squad will still be called to the sighting--an event that can cause trains to be put on hold for an hour or more--but instead of having a transit officer spend an hour or so trying to figure out what's inside, SIEGMA 3E3 will be able to tell, usually with a few seconds, if a bomb is hidden within the unattended package.
If the tool detects a possible explosive, officers will use a handheld computer attached to the unit by a fiber optic cable. The computer can read the gamma rays emitted from the package or bag and give officers a chemical assessment of the ray's wavelengths so officers will know exactly what kind of explosive they are dealing with.
The new technology costs $300,000 per unit and is being funded by a homeland security grant made available to transit agencies for enhancing security. The system will be launched this fall, with SEPTA as well as other large transit systems and airports watching to see how effective and efficient it is.