Security innovation – tackling the new shoe bomb threat

The UK’s security sector is world leading because of its constant innovation.  I was reminded of this last week, when the US Department for Homeland Security issued an alert about a new shoe bomb threat to airlines, specifically warning that terrorists may try to hide explosives in shoes (19 February 2014).

Explosive concealment in heel of shoe

Just the day before, the UK’s Security and Resilience Industry Suppliers Community (RISC) had organised an ‘academic market place’.  This event was designed to improve collaboration between security companies and those academics who are developing cutting edge capabilities at low Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) and seeking industry partners to progress their Intellectual Property.

Dr Stuart Harmer from the Sensing & Imaging Group at Manchester Metropolitan University presented on the topic ‘Millimetre and Microwave Detection of Threats Concealed on a Body’.

Microwave imagery of footwear to detect concealments

As part of his presentation, Dr Harmer spoke about how microwave radar imagery of footwear can be used to easily reveal concealments made within the soles of shoes.

The technique is safe, inexpensive, simple and (importantly) can scan both shoes rapidly whilst worn, making an autonomous decision in seconds.  The technology is being developed in collaboration with Manchester Airport. Modified heel cavity v unmodified cavity This is a great example of the UK’s security sector – industry and academia – working with operators and end-users to develop innovative solutions.  It also shows how adept the security sector is at designing-in security: when DHS issued its warning, there was grumbling about queue times at airports as people were told to take off their shows.  But if footwear can be scanned whilst being worn, what a difference that makes to the experience of the public: a good balance of security, confidence and efficiency.