Those who wish to prevent an act of terrorism in a public place have many tools to choose from; knowledge of individuals, sensors that can identify explosive substances and surveillance cameras to name just a few. But those methods of working share a common drawback – if one is the target of a determined suicide attack, discovering it may come too late.
Within the framework of European security research FOI is now leading the work of stopping terrorists before they have anything to explode.
- From a bomb-making factory on domestic premises there will be leakages of tell-tale substances that indicate the manufacture of explosives. Our scientists are now developing systems that can detect these substances, explains E Anders Eriksson, Head of Department for Defence Analysis.
FOI is a world leader in research in the fields of explosives detection and sensor informatics. But FOI’s main strength in European security research does not lie in individual research areas. Just as no chain is stronger than its weakest link, the key to success lies in our research at system level.
E Anders Eriksson mentions urban mass transportation systems and container security as areas in which FOI has been given a prominent role in European research thanks to our competence in system thinking. In an urban mass transportation system it is not acceptable, as it may be where air travel is concerned, to queue for half an hour for a security check. Protection has to be based on good systems.
- Sensors which can detect explosive charges are one route. But what does one do when explosive is detected? And how do you identify the bomb carrier in a group of people? Good evacuation systems are among the more immediately available answers. But thinking further ahead, we are looking at other possibilities such as ways of how we can distinguish the bomb carrier in a crowd, how we can track that person and then incapacitate the individual when there are as few people as possible in harm’s way.
Container security is highly topical now that the United States has introduced requirements that inbound containers must be examined on arrival.
- In one of our research projects, therefore, we are working on the fusion of information from databases, customs and other parts of systems involved in trade, in order to create systems that can point to suspect containers so that these in particular, rather than all containers arriving, can be examined more closely. This should save a great deal of money, says E Anders Eriksson.
FOI expertise in security research often derives from research for the Swedish Armed Forces. Sensors used in container security systems are based on those originally developed for military surveillance and information fusion applications used in intelligence analysis.
At the same time the military benefits from new knowledge gained in the course of our security research.
- For example our knowledge of how to detect bomb manufacture can be of direct benefit to our soldiers in Afghanistan. Similarly our research in the field of information fusion improves their overall awareness and understanding of a complex situation, says E Anders Eriksson.