Individuals who carry explosives or have been involved in bomb making are likely to be contaminated with trace explosives, microscopic particles invisible to the naked eye. Without the right equipment, detecting trace explosives can be challenging for responders and security personnel. Handheld explosives trace detectors (ETDs) can be used to complement bomb-sniffing canines, which are still the gold standard in trace explosives detection. These detectors can be used to find trace explosives on individuals, hopefully preventing a dangerous incident.
Handheld ETDs are small, lightweight, and usually do not require assembly, making them an ideal choice for responders who need to quickly investigate a suspicious package or screen individuals in areas lacking permanent fixtures or sufficient power. In order to provide information to the responder community, two federal laboratories under the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate (S&T)—the National Urban Security Technology Laboratory (NUSTL)—primarily a testing and evaluation laboratory for first responders—and the Transportation Security Laboratory (TSL)—known for its experience in explosives detection—collaborated to use their respective expertise to assess handheld ETDs.