Stopping Tragedy in its Tracks
Ferromagnetic detection catches terrorist before they get too close
- By Ralph C. Jensen
- Jun 01, 2018
Security expert Jim Viscardi
discusses with Security Today
how to detect weapons of mass
casualty well before a shooting
incident can occur. When people
attend events at an arena, a concert venue
or a sports stadium, they are ready to enjoy a
good time, and a large crowd often adds to the excitement.
Unfortunately, these gatherings have also proven to be vulnerable
targets for terrorists and others looking to sow chaos and incite panic.
Security personnel do all they can to identify these threats before
tragedy strikes—but in a large crowd this is incredibly difficult and,
by the time a potential evildoer gets to the front door or gate, it can
be too late.
Event organizers have responded to past attacks by improving
their security methods and adding more metal detectors, police and
other security personnel. Despite these efforts, a would-be terrorist
can still manage their way to the venue’s entrance and pose a mass
Q: You believe that security at large-scale events need to be improved.
What do you see as the limitations of current strategies?
A: Conventional walk-through metal detectors are usually what
you will see at events. They can successfully detect metal objects, but
only screen five or six people each minute. These are usually placed
just outside or inside a venue to screen people as they enter the facility.
This means that they, by nature, create queues of people, which
are at the root of the problem for most venues. Walkthrough detectors
are often used in tandem with hand wands to secondarily screen
anyone who sets off an alert.
Under this paradigm, a terrorist is already close enough, and
among a dense enough population of people, to cause significant
damage. Bad people do not need to actually enter the venue; they just
need to get close enough to cause a large number of casualties. We
have already seen this happen at events like the Manchester Arena
bombing in 2017, which occurred right at the security point. In a
situation like that, a terrorist is surrounded by dozens—or possibly
hundreds—of people and is just 10 to 20 yards away from the critical
asset: the interior of the venue.
As an extra layer of security, facilities will equip their toolkits
with everything from drones to closed circuit television and patrolling
security to identify suspicious behavior. You can get an idea how
these additional methods have intrinsic limitations. They are observational
and, by design, observational security methods do not provide
concrete, detection-based evidence that someone has a weapon. It’s
only natural that human factors compound the limitations, introducing
greater degrees of error and chance. Even if a threat is identified,
it might be too late to stop it.
Q: What makes the far perimeter of a venue an ideal place to screen
for weapons of mass casualty?
A: A terrorist is often trying to get closer to the immediate perimeter
of a venue to inflict the most damage to large groups of people
waiting to get in. Farther away, event attendees are walking toward
the entrance and, thus, are more dispersed rather than standing in
clusters or lines.
Q: What is the best technology for screening an outer perimeter?
A: Ferromagnetic detection systems, or FMDS, make this type of
advance screening possible. FMDS uses passive sensors that evaluate
disturbances in the earth’s magnetic field caused by a magnetic object
moving through its detection zone. The technology can be honed to
only detect large magnetic masses.
This is a key point, in that the technology does not detect metallic
mass, rather it detects a magnetic signature. Everything else is invisible
to it—people, clothing, backpacks, purses, belts, watches and cell
phones. Trying to hide a weapon is not a feasible option for an evildoer
in this scenario, as nothing can be used to shield the threat of a
large magnetic signature with FMDS.
Q: How accurate is FMDS?
A: Very accurate. First, there is no false alarm rate with FMDS.
It is designed with complex scientific methods to function simply.
This means that a magnetic signature typical of an assault rifle or
bomb is moving through the detection zone, or it is not. Those are
the only possible outcomes. Because the technology will never miss
something the way a human would, it is more effective and reliable
than observational security methods. It is also important to note that
the system only works on moving objects, meaning it is immune to
environmental noise, such as rebar, that would trip up conventional
Q: You mention the concern for security personnel in avoiding
queues. How does FMDS help with queues forming?
A: FMDS allows between 50 and 60 people to be screened per
minute, without having to stop and divest their possessions as they
walk toward a venue. It does not need people to be organized into
lines or groups; it simply detects a magnetic signature on anything
Q: Is an FMDS system difficult to set up and integrate?
A: The system runs on batteries, so there is no need for an electricity
source, as with a walk-through detector. It can be placed on
just about any form factor (a pole, a stand, etc.), which gives security
personnel flexibility. They can create a wide perimeter around a venue
without worrying about portability or a power source, and screening
can be as obvious or as concealed as personnel prefer.
There are FMDS products that can be integrated with other
systems such as CCTV or access control to be part of the broader
Q: So, can this approach replace traditional screening techniques
like metal detectors and hand wands?
A: That is not the goal. FMDS is meant to close a gap in mass
screenings at large events by expanding the secure perimeter and creating
a highly accurate way to detect weapons of mass casualty farther
away from large crowds and venues. It does not replace screening
for smaller items, necessarily, and all large venues should use a
layered security solution that also includes security guards, walkthrough
metal detectors and hand wands.
Q: Do you think FMDS will be a common part of security screening
at large-scale events in the near future?
A: New technologies are being developed now to help fight against
evolving threats and make the world safer. FMDS is certainly one
of these technologies. By providing a foolproof method of detecting
weapons of mass casualty before terrorists get too close to an event
venue, FMDS offers a way to better protect large events, making
them less vulnerable and keeping people safe.
This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Security Today.