Vince Deery explains how to minimise the disruption and maximise the deterrent of x-ray scanning at train stations
As the threat of terrorism has become a fact of life, so too has the need for increased security at locations which deal with high volumes of people traffic. Of these, some of the most challenging types of building to secure are mass transit locations, such as railway stations. It is very difficult to implement airport-style security in railway or underground stations, but the threat still needs to be mitigated. So, how can x-ray baggage screening be successfully implemented at stations?
Railway stations, particularly the large city hubs, are among the most challenging buildings for security operations. It is very difficult to implement airport style security in railway stations. Not only are the volumes of people traffic extremely high – 70 million people pass through London’s Kings Cross alone every year – but also train stations are open buildings, with no equivalent of ‘air side’ as there would be in an airport. As a result, there are no ‘natural’ barriers at which to perform security checks. Moreover, rail passengers do not expect to have to turn up at a station hours in advance in order to catch a train – the average intercity train has 700 passengers boarding in about 15 minutes. So installing a security barrier to perform checks would be both intrusive and unpopular.
Of course, that is not to say that security checks cannot be implemented at major railway stations, and it remains true that, in eras of terrorist threats and security alerts, railway stations must be subject to some form of security checks. However, there are significant challenges. The difficulty arises from the need to raise the security or deterrent level, at certain locations and times, without impeding the everyday movements of the general public around the station – inspection of 100 per cent of passengers and baggage is simply not realistic in railway stations or equivalent transport hubs. While police have some limited powers to perform security checks, technology has now been developed to supplement the straightforward stop and search powers to enhance the measures security agencies can deploy in these scenarios. We wanted to find a way to introduce some elements of ‘airport style’ baggage screening to train stations. Without blanket inspection of travellers and baggage, security operatives are left with the option of random inspection. But how can this be implemented effectively? One solution is to set up temporary mobile x-ray scanning stations. In some cases the very presence of x-ray scanning equipment and security operators can act as a deterrent, but this is not true in all cases.
Even a temporary x-ray scanning installation can very quickly become ‘part of the furniture’ in mass transit locations, if it is only used in one location or on a strict rota. At this stage the deterrent can go largely unnoticed by people using the building regularly. For those individuals posing a threat, scanning equipment deployed with a fixed pattern will not be a deterrent as they will be able to work around the system in place. Consequently, true portability is crucial. The scanning equipment can then be manoeuvred between different areas of the site in question, acting as a deterrent within every portion of the building, sending out the message that ‘nowhere is exempt from detection’.
In airports, screening is carried out by dedicated staff whose only function is baggage security, in a railway station, the scans are more likely to be conducted by police or other operatives for whom x-ray screening is only a part of their role. The scanner must, therefore, be quick and simple to use and the scans easy to analyse. The last priority is image quality. Despite the need for portability, a scanner at stations must still deliver high quality images with all the functions and features of airport style baggage machines.
This final point is important. The context, location and deployment may differ wildly, but ultimately x-ray screening at train stations should not deliver anything less than the quality that can be expected in airports. As I have explained to make random screening at train stations a real deterrent against terrorism, the system has to be flexible depending on the needs of the location. However, a fully implemented national network of portable, flexible x-ray screening systems in operation at all major transport hubs would present a major deterrent and challenge to individuals wishing to cause harm.
Vince Deery is the sales and marketing director of 3DX-ray, a company that has developed portable x-ray screening equipment.