Mike O'Neil

When we think about today’s technology, it is hard to argue against the benefits that cell phones, email and social media bring to our daily lives. They afford incredible convenience and a level of enhanced communication that we could not fathom even a few years ago. Unfortunately, it is this very same technology that has created the single most critical issue for enterprise risk and public safety. Terrorists now exploit online platforms and social media sites to radicalize and recruit, share information and rapidly advance the threat. Additionally, they are consistently innovating to circumvent current security technologies.

To successfully address the exponentially growing threats proliferating through terrorists’ shrewd use of today’s technologies, the public and private security industries need to advance more quickly. Terrorist tradecraft has continued to evolve in the area of improvised explosives, particularly with peroxide based and other homemade explosives. Trained bomb makers continue to experiment at their own peril, synthesizing various chemical compounds in an effort to disguise explosives and enhance their strength. Through the use of online communication platforms, including social media, this information is dispersed to hostile actors around the globe who are using it to produce mass casualty events.

Sustaining technologies, those that rely merely on incremental improvements to already established solutions, will never defeat this threat. To be successful, the industry must develop and employ truly disruptive security solutions that innovatively blend state-of-the-art technology with trained experts. This combination is critical for success.

X-ray Technology

X-ray technology is used by every major government institution and fortune 500 company to screen deliveries and mailroom packages for explosives. Tactically speaking, X-ray technology is not new or disruptive, but when you combine X-ray capabilities with the trained eye of a bomb technician, the value of the X-ray as a tool rises to a new level. SmartTech® is a technological solution that delivers this rare combination.

SmartTech® was modeled after a common medical industry practice. Physicians and clinicians around the world have long shared X-ray images and MRI scans in real time with one another to produce the best possible diagnosis and response plan. Similarly, SmartTech® allows questionable X-ray items to be viewed in real time by FBI-certified bomb technicians who analyze, confirm or clear suspicious visuals in mere minutes. It creates an economy of scale which enables users to access expertise not available anywhere else in the private sector. It is important that we foster continued innovation in the vein of SmartTech® and look to peers in different fields to identify technologies and processes that enhance the security industry.

Explosive Detection Canines as Technology

In many environments, a properly imprinted and trained canine is the most effective technology for explosive detection. Though the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) spent $19 billion over several years to develop the next level of explosive detection, the Agency concluded that the canine remains the unrivaled tool. MSA’s newly developed Advanced Alarm Resolution is a patented process that capitalizes on this canine detection capability, strategically blending it with uniquely-qualified subject matter experts to deliver an unmatched screening solution.

Within the air cargo sector, as an example, a canine might indicate – perhaps even on a harmless substance like black powder in a nail gun – while screening a Unit Loading Device (ULD), pallet or other cargo container. Under the Advanced Alarm Resolution process, the suspicious package is immediately extracted and examined through on-site X-ray screening. The on-site screener can then utilize SmartTech® to securely transmit X-ray images in real time to a remote Emergency Operations Center for immediate analysis and resolution by trained bomb technicians.

In addition to ensuring 100 percent screening of all cargo, this process of layered explosive screening, combining technology with human expertise, yields invaluable cost and operational efficiencies. Eliminating misinterpretation of suspicious items mitigates the liability risk that leads to service delays, business disruption, unnecessary evacuations or, in the worst situation, the mishandling of a true IED threat.

Addressing Security Threats into the Future

For the security industry to advance in its mission to combat terror, disruptive, not sustaining, technologies and processes must be developed and deployed. Explosive detection capabilities must continue to evolve, and we must create innovative and strategic technologies and processes that counter radicalization through social media. The most successful security advancements that deliver the greatest protection and peace of mind will undoubtedly combine two critical components: robust technology and human expertise.


Michael O’NeilA 22-year veteran of the New York City Police Department, Mr. O’Neil had the honor of serving as the first Commanding Officer of the NYPD Counterterrorism Division, which he helped create after 9/11. In that role, Mr. O'Neil was responsible for the daily operation and implementation of all aspects of the NYPD counterterrorism program, directing the NYPD’s mission of critical infrastructure protection, global terrorist threat analysis, CBRNE programs and policies, special event security planning, and counterterrorism training. He holds a Bachelors of Professional Studies in Criminal Justice from SUNY Empire State College and Top Secret security clearances granted through the FBI and the Department of Energy.

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