Whether you are a Director of Corporate security or you work as a freight forwarder in a warehouse accepting freight for air transport, you are responsible for the screening of various threats crossing your checkpoint. You are also responsible for the protection of your building and its inhabitants and will eventually need to include an effective explosives detection system.
The Transportation Security Administration has certified two ETD machines and another has been approved for use after January 1, 2014. As technology evolves and improves, and with the dozens of offerings on the market, how do you know what you really need?
The bottom line is that a wide variety of options, variables and requirements must be considered when evaluating explosives detectors. Tradeoffs are inevitable, and some features will be more important to you and your mission than others. Certain criteria will remain a priority throughout the search, like sensitivity or portability, while others may be important but less so. The goal is to make the best decision for your particular situation. One decision you should make is to speak with an expert on the subject. Corporate Loss Prevention Associates (CLPA) has both qualified and experienced members on its team who can assist with the selection of the right system.
This article won't answer the question of what meets YOUR particular need but it will at least help to ask the right questions to address your particular needs.

Trace Detection

Trace Detection typically means the detection of a quantity that is invisible to the naked eye, and is usually categorized as less than a microgram (millionth of a gram). Most trace detectors are capable of detection levels in the low nanograms range (billionths of a gram). Bulk detection means detecting a quantity that is visible to the naked eye, and is categorized as more than a microgram, even pounds of a substance.

Probability of Detection
The detector you choose should have the ability to detect not only pure laboratory samples of explosives, but actual explosives the way they are found in the field: powdered, solid, liquid, dry, wet, aluminized, plasticized, or mixed with other explosives and/or non-explosives materials.
What explosives need to be detected? Of course it is always preferable to detect every type of explosive but some explosives are more commonly encountered than others. For example, the most common type of explosive material used in mail bombings in the U.S. has been black powder, such as the explosive used at the finish line in the recent Boston Marathon explosion.
If your security plans include screening mail or packages, you might focus on a detector that works well on black powder, even though it might not detect peroxide explosives. If you work in an area where there is a high level of background contamination of explosives, such as a firing range, it might be best to seek a detector that is not overly sensitive that it easily alarms for propellants or which easily clogs because of larger samples of explosives. A detector that is too sensitive in this situation is virtually useless in this type environment.
Whereas if you work in a cargo screening environment, you need a machine that is certified by the TSA which can and will detect many different types of explosives. These machines need daily preventive maintenance in order to maintain peak efficiency.
System Costs
There are actually three parts to the cost of a system:

First, you must consider the purchase cost. There are very inexpensive, disposable single-use kits which cost as little as a few hundred dollars for 50-100 tests but which have limited capabilities. There are also systems that cost $20,000, $30,000 or more, even up to $100,000 per system. Budgets will dictate the quality, capabilities and features you can afford.
Secondly, you should consider consumables and other life cycle costs. These can include consumables such as dopants, membranes, reagents, sampling swipes, scheduled maintenance contracts, etc. Maintenance costs are essential for effective operation of equipment and are important to consider for annual budget planning.
Lastly, training costs play a role in the selection of a system. Some systems require only minimal initial training whereas others require extensive operator training, as well as training in preventative and corrective maintenance.
It is also important to consider the ease of use by someone untrained. Given the personnel turnover in some jobs and agencies, the individual currently assigned to the equipment may not have been in that position when the manufacturer's training was first conducted. Lack of training is one of the leading reasons equipment falls into disuse, becoming a very expensive paperweight.


Portability simply refers to how quickly a system can be unplugged, picked up from a desk, moved to another desk and powered up, warmed-up and calibrated. The device may be light enough to be hand-held or hung from a belt or MOLLE vest.
If you are operating a fixed checkpoint where people must come to you to enter an area, a fixed system that sits on a desk may suffice. However, if you are on patrol, checking people or vehicles, it is inconvenient to take a sample and run inside to conduct the test, only to find the person/car/item you were screening has left the area.
Modern systems are able to be held in a single hand, operated quickly and safely with instant “on” and no calibration requirements. They can then be shut down and put away just as easily after the test is done, regardless of environmental conditions or types of surfaces being tested. Don't be fooled. Size used to be an indicator of capability...big desk systems were better and more powerful than small hand-held systems but THIS IS NO LONGER THE CASE! The world of Explosives Detectors is just as driven by miniaturization as any other technology, and today the size of a system has virtually no bearing on what that system can or cannot do.

Sampling Method

The vast majority of explosives detectors available either sample air for explosives content, detect explosive material from a sample collection swipe, or both. Most air sampling systems ("sniffers") demonstrate swipe sampling as their primary means of collecting a sample. The goal is to increase the “Probability of Detection” while being as un-intrusive as possible [NOTE: Neither of these collection methods qualify as "stand-off" detection, which is defined as the ability to detect explosives or explosives contamination in/on a vehicle, package, person, or item from a distance as little as a few meters away to hundreds of meters away, often while that object is moving (like a homicide bomber moving through a crowd, or a vehicle borne IED being driven to a checkpoint).

So let us know if we can help you decide because “We do more than just sell the equipment.”



Morpho’s field proven explosives, narcotics and chemical detection systems are used to help safeguard people and high-risk targets including air and ground transportation, government and military facilities and other critical infrastructure.

Morpho integrates computed tomography (CT), Raman Spectroscopy, trace (ITMS™ technology), X-ray and X-ray Diffraction technologies into solutions that can make security activities more accurate, productive and efficient, as well as less intrusive. Morpho’s detection solutions are deployed to help protect people and property in some of the most important and sensitive world locations.

Morpho provides a wide range of qualified and certified technology-based solutions for detecting explosives and other threats to the traveling public for the aviation and other transportation-related industries.


Advanced technologies, including Computed Tomography, Raman Spectroscopy, trace, X-ray and X-ray Diffraction offer efficient screening solutions at passenger checkpoints, and at checked baggage and cargo screening points.

Itemiser® DX

The Itemiser DX is the first trace detector in the world to simultaneously detect positive and negative ions. Simultaneous detection enables the Itemiser DX to detect a broad range of explosives that meet current market threats.

It delivers fast, simultaneous explosives and narcotics detection in a package that is ergonomic and portable.



Rapidly screens pallet size parcels and containers in airport and seaport cargo applications.

Palletized Cargo X-ray Screening System
Morpho’s HRX 1800™ X-ray scanner is a cost effective solution ideal for screening pallet size parcels and containers in airport and seaport cargo applications. The tunnel size of 180.3 cm (71 in) wide by 180.6 cm (71.1 in) high maximizes the effective screening region, facilitating production of exceptional images while rapidly inspecting large articles.

PC-Based System for User Flexibility
The HRX 1800 runs on Windows® XP Professional, utilizing the central structure, reduced hardware costs, minimal interfaces, easy upgrade paths, full integration and high reliability of a PC-based system.

Robust Network Design
The HRX 1800 is equipped with high-speed Ethernet TCP/IP data communication capability. Images from any HRX model can be sent securely through the network to a central server where they can be viewed, stored, and printed. The HRX 1800 is also designed to network with other inspection systems to maximize a comprehensive solution.

Standard Features

  • Automated image archiving­up to 50,000 images
  • User-friendly image review­up to last 100 images
  • System Health, advanced continuous diagnostics
  • High penetration function
  • Density alert
  • Edge-enhancement imaging
  • Baggage counter
  • Color and black/white imaging
  • Bi-directional heavy duty roller bed
  • Geometric image distortion correction
  • Horizontal and vertical imaging
  • Image annotation
  • Manual archiving of images in bitmap format
  • Organic and inorganic imaging
  • Clarify feature for improved resolution and penetration
  • Print image function
  • Programmable penetration and contrast levels
  • Pseudocolor and reverse monochrome
  • Real-time image manipulation
  • Dual high-resolution 24 in. (60.96 cm) LCD color monitors
  • User-defined access to image archive
  • 2X to 32X User-selectable zoom
  • Z-number measurement
  • Six color imaging
  • Nine zone zoom