On Tuesday, officials announced that Los Angeles’ subway system would be the first in the nation to install body scanning cameras to screen passengers for weapons and explosive device security threats.
The L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) and the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) began testing the advanced screeners in 2017 while evaluating ways to improve safety in L.A.’s subway and light-rail stations. Metro plans to deploy several scanners later this year.
“We will be looking at areas where we can screen large numbers of passengers with minimal inconvenience,” Metro security chief Alex Wiggins said.
The screening equipment is portable and controlled by a laptop computer, allowing authorities flexibility to operate the scanners at any transit depot within Metro’s rail system. Capable of scanning more than 2,000 people per hour, officials say the machines can transmit a full-body screening of passengers walking through a station without slowing them down. The high-tech cameras could provide a visual warning of mass casualty threats from 30 feet away, protecting the traveling public from potential terrorist attacks.
Transportation officials explained that the people-screening cameras are “designed to identify concealed objects by analyzing waves that are naturally emitted by the human body.” Those waves are blocked when an object is strapped to an individual or hidden in a person’s clothing.
The technology generates a generic avatar of a passerby that resembles a “green ghost.” The imagery reportedly shows a black spot in the area of the body where explosives or other contraband might be hiding. No radiation is emitted from the mobile units, and no anatomical details are displayed, authorities said.
The Los Angeles Times reported that a Metro security spokesperson “declined to comment on whether someone carrying a handgun would be stopped and searched,” and:
Riders will be warned that they will be subject to search before they are scanned, Wiggins said. (At Union Station on Tuesday, a sign posted next to the body scanner read, “Passengers proceeding past this point are subject to Metro security screening and inspection.”)
“One thing we have to be sensitive to is the 4th Amendment, unreasonable search and seizure,” Wiggins said. “We will make it very, very clear that individuals are entering an area where they’re subject to search.”
Riders who “want to opt out, can opt out,” Wiggins said, but could be barred from entering the station if they refuse to be screened. He added: “That means not taking transit that day.”
More than 350,000 passengers travel via Metro’s 93 subway and light-rail stations every weekday, while the agency estimates that it provided more than 112 million rides last year.
Metro and TSA expect the new safeguard to deter attempted terrorist attacks like the detonation in a major New York City commuter hub last December. A Bangladeshi immigrant who had pledged allegiance to ISIS wore a homemade pipe bomb inside a transit center, setting off an explosion that injured five people.
The scanning technology was developed by Thruvision, which is headquartered in the United Kingdom and has an office in Virginia. According to the company’s website, its product “is used in a range of market sectors, from mass transit to retail loss prevention.”
TSA has been working with multiple transit agencies to test bomb-detection equipment since 2004, including Amtrak at New York’s Penn Station, the New Jersey Transit, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District.
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @Near_Chaos.