Terror bust in UK leads to attention for HiEnergy
IRVINE, Calif.--When British officials announced in early August the apprehension of 24 terrorist suspects who were reportedly intent on bringing liquid explosives onto airplanes and detonating them with simple electronic devices, airline travelers were quickly inconvenienced. Lines formed around the world as travelers were forced to jettison or check shampoos, hand lotions, sodas, and just about any other gel or liquid that most would consider completely innocuous.
Of course, one traveler's inconvenience is another company's opportunity. HiEnergy Technologies, for instance, happens to produce the Siegma System, which employs a neutron accelerator and a gamma detector to rapidly analyze the chemical makeup of any substance/material. The System can easily identify liquid explosives or even the "binary" explosives officials spoke of, where two harmless liquids could be combined on a plane to produce an explosive.
"The last week has been kind of a whirlwind," said Sean Moore, the company's vice president of sales and marketing, "but in all the very best ways." Film crews from CNN, ABC, and CBS converged on the company to ask questions about its technology and look for answers to what is becoming the very frustrating experience of commercial airline travel.
"The whole issue of the liquids has put us in the spotlight," said Moore, "as there are only so many options out there. Otherwise, people are using sniffer units and trace detectors, which have significant rates of false alarm. This may be the turning point with regards to HiEnergy getting included in some of these funding initiatives and getting exposure that we need."
HiEnergy has been studying and developing neutron technology since 1996, went public in 2002, and just started marketing commercial products in 2004. Their first test deployment was implemented earlier this year with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, which used the suitcase-sized Siegma to quickly analyze suspicious packages.
"The feedback has been very positive," Moore said. "SEPTA was plagued with mounting [unattended baggage] incidents." While the Transit Authority was using bomb-detection dogs, which Moore praised, the dogs were being consistently fooled by nitroglycerin-based medications or lubricants used on the doors and wheels of subway cars. Possible bombs meant calling in the Philadelphia Police Department's bomb squad and shutting down a facility - which can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $30,000, said Moore. With HiEnergy, he said, "they can use the Siegma System to properly evaluate what they're looking at."
For potential customers, there is some training and licensing that needs to be accomplished because of the system's radioactive nature, but HiEnergy has teamed with the Radiation Safety Academy in Maryland, and a year's service and support comes with any sale.
Will the government utilize the technology to make air travel easier? "They have the funds and they need to allocate them more effectively," said Moore. "At the end of the day, we could screen that bottle of water with our system - it's going to get to the point where the traveling public aren't even going to want to fly anymore."