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WMD Detection Devices

While much has been made of the emergency response to a chemical, biological or radiological attack, most of the visible efforts to date have been in the form of personal protective equipment (PPE) worn by first responders at the scene of a crisis. However, there also are a good number of companies in the business of detecting and analyzing these possible threats so they can be addressed in the safest manner possible.

The science of WMD detection is not new. The emphasis placed upon detection by the law enforcement community is new. As with most things related to weapons of mass destruction, the detection equipment now available to law enforcement agencies has come about as a result of the military requirements.

There exists a burgeoning marketplace of companies that manufacture equipment designed to test and evaluate substances such as toxic gases and potentially harmful chemicals. Most of these, however, are based upon the industrial uses of those products and the accidents that come about as a result. We must remember that the military and law enforcement responses to threats often overlap a great deal. As a result, agencies seeking this detection technology are encouraged to remain as close as possible to the military specification and cautioned not stray into the industrial-commercial side of the equation.

Listed below are several companies that manufacture equipment suitable for law enforcement use. Some of the equipment is very technical in nature and will require a great deal of training to use with any degree of accuracy. Some of the technology however is based upon simple “one button tech” that is intuitive in nature and will allow for an officer to use the equipment with only the most basic training with a high degree of success.


AristaTek differs from the others covered in this article because it produces no suits, no detection equipment and offers no protective equipment. What it does provide is a software package that can be used on most standard laptops, to include most PC-based mobile data terminals, that will accurately predict the dispersion of toxic or flammable vapor clouds or the propagation of other dangerous gases.

The PEAC software was developed with the express purpose of being used in a field environment so that first responders could accurately assess the danger that exists to the public and to assets in a critical situation. The PEAC software can accurately model where a threat will form, where it will travel, and in what manner it will disperse.

Valuable time can be saved by having the software already on board first responding vehicles. This software package also includes valuable information such as various threat chemicals and substances at that touch of a button. The bulky data and response books will be a thing of the past if an agency has the PEAC-WMD software.

Other programs and software mimic those from PEAC, but few have taken the time to work with sensor manufacturers and others in this field that have been able to add valuable insight and years of technical knowledge to the package. The PEAC software is suitable for use in Windows-based operating systems such as PCs, MDTs and PDAs.

BW Technologies

A division of Honeywell, a well-known military contractor, BW Technologies is the maker of gas monitors and detection equipment. BW Technologies offers numerous models of fixed and portable devices that are designed for use in the harshest environments.

Some of their models are designed for industrial use and use in confined spaces, which hold great promise for people engaged in search-and-rescue functions. Models such as the GasAlertMicro and GasAlertMax are especially well-suited for these tasks. Both the GasAlertMicro and GasAlertMax are handheld/wearable devices that are multi-gas capable, each having alarm modes and the ability to show real-time gas exposure.

BW Technologies also markets a variety of stand-alone and fixed emplacement devices that are capable of remote operation. In fact, BW offered the world’s first solar powered remote detection device.

Overall, BW Technologies understands the meaning of harsh environment as it creates devices to be used in some of the most far-ranging extremes on the planet. From the desert to the Arctic, one will find this company’s devices in use.

Control Screening / AutoClear

AutoClear is the manufacturer of many different products that may be useful to the law enforcement community during critical incidents. The several different divisions of this company make products as diverse as metal detectors and trace explosive detection devices. The one product that is overwhelmingly the most useful in terms of domestic law enforcement usage is the E3500 series of explosives detection equipment.

The E3500 is one of the few products that is able to reliably detect trace amounts of explosives, including TATP and peroxide-based explosives in the vapor or particulate mode, as well as the taggants that are chemically included in the manufacture of both military-grade and high-grade commercial explosives. The unit, which has a retail price of about $25,000, has a life expectancy of more than 10 years, measures about 10 inches in length and weighs about 6 pounds.

The heart of the unit is a Luminol cartridge that is good for 2,000 searches or 30 days. Additional luminol cartridges are about $75 each. Powered by a lithium-ion battery, the unit is capable of two and a half to three hours of use on one charge.

AutoClear is the provider of the EVD3000, which has been in use by the United States Military for several years in the different combat zones to which our military is now deployed. The company has a clear understanding of the ruggedness required of any equipment in a military or law enforcement role. Canberra Canberra is one of the world’s leading suppliers of radiation detection and monitoring equipment. Recently awarded an $11.7 million contract by the Department of Homeland Security to provide the next generation of radiation monitors for use in examining trucks, rail and sea containers, Canberra continues to supply systems for seemingly every need. Of particular note for first responders is the MCB2, a handheld contamination meter that is designed to detect the presence of Alpha, Beta and Gamma radioactive emissions. The unit is powered by two AA-LR6 batteries that allow for many hours of use.

For personnel who may be exposed to radioactive material or those at risk of becoming exposed, Canberra provides the Radiagem 4000 Personal Portable Dose Rate and Survey Meter, as well as the UltraRadiac. The UltraRadiac is a personal radiation monitor that displays dose and dose rate information on an LCD display. This unit also provides an alarm function to warn an officer of the presence of dangerous radiation.

Also from Canberra is the InSpector 1000. This device, which officials tout as the “Best high-performance handheld radiation identifier” is a portable unit that allows for use in nearly any environment. The unit is designed to find and identify differing nuclides and display an accurate reading of such on a back-lit monitor. The unit, which is capable of being used with gloves, continuously updates dose rates and activities as it is being used.

While many of these devices seem more than complicated and well beyond the need of basic first responders, it is important that agencies at risk of nuclear terrorism arm themselves with the best equipment possible. As with all other parts of law enforcement, appropriate training must be sought and maintained so that officers can fully exploit the wonders that modern technology has brought to us in terms of detection and ultimately intervention.

GE Security

This worldwide company has been at the forefront of many technical innovations for the better part of the last century. A long-standing player in supplying products and services to the military, General Electric Industrial makes several very worthwhile products for law enforcement.

The VaporTracer is a handheld device that can detect explosives and narcotics both by “sniffing” the air and analyzing sample wipes that are taken of an item. Different substances are best detected using different methods, so it is important that the VaporTracer can be used in both modes so there is no need for additional systems.

The VaporTracer is designed to detect explosives such as PETN, TATP, dynamite and other nitroglycerin based explosives as well as drugs such as marijuana, methamphetamine and others. This unit weighs in at a little over seven pounds and is powered by a battery rated for ninety minutes with a six hour battery pack also available.

GE is also the maker of an item that has become familiar to most air travelers. The EntryScan is a non-intrusive detector portal for both explosives and narcotics. The unit, which is capable of detecting a variety of substances, is automated to the point where it can be used rapidly at checkpoints.

The EntryScan uses what GE terms as the “human convection plume” to take advantage of the natural airflow the surrounds all people to detect a substance that a person may be carrying. The advantage of this system is that by taking advantage of the air flow, there is no need for a fan or other “air stirring” device that can pick up dust particles and other contaminates that could potentially cause a false reading.

Along with these two products, GE is also the maker of the Itemiser and the StreetLab. The Itemiser is a desktop-style, dual-mode detector that is capable of detecting both narcotics and explosives using a “sample trap” wipe. An examiner needs only to pass the wipe over a suspicious area and then insert it into the device. Quickly the unit will indicate if a substance has been detected.

Finally, the StreetLab is a unique product because an officer can simply insert a sample of an unknown substance into the device. The unit will then, by using the laser-based system, quickly identify the unknown substance. Weighing 7 pounds, the StreetLab is capable of analyzing a wide range of narcotics and explosive compounds in either powder, solid or liquid form.


Proengin markets several products that are useful to the law enforcement community designed to detect chemical or biological agents. First is the AP2C. This device is capable of detecting several thousand different agents and the degraded versions of these agents. Plainly, the unit will detect chemical agents that have been mixed with other substances, as well as those that have aged and begun to degrade over time.

Similar to the AP2C, the AP2C-V is a chemical agent detector capable of being vehicle mounted or used in fixed positions. The unit will detect “G-type” agents such as the Sarin gas that was used in the 1995 attack of the Tokyo subway system and VX and HD. This unit is capable of being activated and will report data via remote control.

Proengin also makes the M.A.B. This product is a biological alarm monitor that has been adapted for military and law enforcement use. The unit, like most of Proengins products, uses flame spectrophotometry technology for analysis. The unit continually samples the atmosphere and will sound an alarm once a biological agent is detected and exceeds a certain threshold. This unit is capable of operating in temperatures as diverse as -4 deg F to more than 122 deg F, making it ideal for most law enforcement functions where personnel are present.

Radiation Shield Technologies

Radiation Shield Technologies is the maker of Demron, technology designed to protect the wearer against harmful radiation. This material, which is used to make a variety of garments, protects against particle ionizing and nuclear radiation and shields against gamma and X-ray emissions.

In regard to first responders, Radiation Shield Technologies is marketing items as diverse as a Demron suit, a tactical-style blanket and a tactical vest, each manufactured with Demron and capable of offering this much-needed protection.

While there are many companies that manufacture suits for chemical and biological warfare agents, there are few that are capable of handling the hazard of ionizing radiation. For agencies at risk of encountering a radioactive substance, this corporation has much to offer.

RAE Systems

RAE Systems is a multi-faceted company that markets products across the world. It makes a variety of products including those capable of detecting and monitoring radiation, as well as ones designed to detect volatile compounds and other chemicals. Several of RAE Systems products have first-responder application,s among which are the GammaRAE II Responder, a radiation dosimeter and detector, and the ChemRAE, a chemical warfare (CW) agent detector.

The GammaRAE II Responder is a handheld/wearable device that is powered by two AA batteries. It is capable of sounding an alarm when radiation is detected, making the first responder aware of the threat. The device is capable of recording an accurate measure of the cumulative radiation to which the officer has been exposed. The device, which is safe to use in any environment, uses a Bluetooth connection to communicate with a separate computer for use in downloading the recorded information.

Also from RAE is the ChemRAE. The ChemRAE is a handheld chemical warfare agent detector that is capable of also identifying the specific substance. This device is capable of not only detecting CW agents but also industrial chemicals that may pose a hazard to first responders to a crisis.

In addition to these products, RAE has a complete line of devices that may prove useful in the law enforcement and security arena. It offers the NeutronRAE II, which is also a radiation detector that provides detection capabilities of both gamma and neutron sources. This device meets the stringent ITRAP (Illicit Trafficking Radiation Assessment) standards for the detection of radiological substances and can be used in a search mode to determine if radiological substances are present in an area.

Smiths Detection

Makers of several handheld detection devices, Smiths Detection was recently awarded a $9.5 million United States Department of Defense contract to supply the Improved Chemical Agent Monitors (ICAM) for military use.

While Smiths markets a variety of devices, several have recently come to prominence. In July 2006, the New York City Police Department bought a number of Smiths Sabre 4000 portable detection devices for use in screening people for explosives in an unobtrusive manner. This purchase reportedly came about as a result of a seven-month evaluation period where the units were deployed into the New York subway system.

The Sabre 4000 is a portable device that is capable of explosive-, narcotic- and chemical-agent detection. In its chemical-detection format, the unit is capable of discovering Tabun, Sarin, VX and Nitrogen Mustard 3. In its explosive-detection format, it will handle PETN, TNT, Semtex, RDX, Ammonium Nitrate, and others. For narcotics, the unit will detect cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamines. This is truly one product that any law enforcement agency could use in a multitude of ways.

Smiths also provides the APD 2000. This device, which is powered by common alkaline batteries, is used in the detection of nerve and blister agents, as well as pepper spray and mace. The APD 2000 closely resembles a handheld radar gun in appearance but is capable of so much more. This is reportedly the first device of this size that can rapidly detect the multitude of different substances with which a first responder may come into contact.

In addition to all of the equipment, Smiths can also offer onsite training.

Thermo-Electron Corporation

Thermo-Electron markets a full gamut of chemical- and radiological-detection devices. While some of the products offered are tailored to seaports, wharfs and other fixed installations, the company has also brought forth a number of very useful products with the first responder in mind. Thermo-Electron makes a variety of portable detection devices designed for a broad spectrum of threats. The units that this maker produces will detect threats from toxic vapors, radiological threats and explosives.

Thermo-Electron also produces a variety of covert sensing equipment that can be used in areas where normal detectors would potentially give rise to mass panic or the sight of a detection team could inadvertently trigger an incident. One of these devices is what appears to be a common backpack; it is actually a radiation-detection system.

While no photograph of this item has been provided with this article for operational security purposes, suffice it to say that this pack resembles the millions of other backpacks common on the streets of any city. The pack, which will both record and store data, is equipped with a silent alarm to notify the wearer of an alert.

Thermo-Electron is a multi-national company that is capable of handling any sensing or detection need. It offers a wide variety of products and services that can benefit a law enforcement agency before, during and after a crisis.

There will continue to be developments in countering the threat of weapons of mass destruction. There will no doubt be improvements in technology that come about as a result of the amount of interest and money being devoted to this endeavor. It would be easy for a law enforcement agency to become caught up in the “new and improved” thought process that is common to most fields where products are being developed and turned out at such a stunning rate.

Most of the companies featured in this article have years of research and development time under their collective belts and a great deal of experience in this field. When lives are on the line, as they most certainly will be in any WMD scenario, there is no room for the “easier and cheaper” mentality. In these scenarios, it will be important that law enforcement has taken the time and invested the effort in obtaining only the best sensing and detection equipment possible.

Scott Oldham is a supervisory sergeant with the Bloomington, IN Police Department where he is assigned to the Operations Division as patrol supervisor, as well as being one of the team leaders for the department’s Tactical Unit. He and his partner, Sergeant Mick Williams, provide contract instruction on a wide range of subjects, including tactical and patrol-based skills. He can be reached at

Published in Law and Order, Oct 2006

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