DHS Funds Contact Sampling Task Order

The ALERT Center of Excellence has been awarded a $1.2 million dollar task order contract from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the creation of standardized procedures and methods to measure the efficiency and performance of contact sampling for trace explosives detection.

Contact sampling refers to the sampling, or “swabbing” of individuals, baggage, and cargo conducted by security personnel for the purpose of gathering trace explosives. Trace explosives are the non-visible, or “trace” amounts of particulates from materials used to make explosives. When properly detected, the presence of these particulates alert security personnel to potential explosives-related threats.

The task order, known as the Contact Sampling Task Order, came out of the Trace Explosives Sampling for Security Applications (TESSA) workshop series hosted by ALERT, and led by Professor Stephen Beaudoin of Purdue University. TESSA01 (August 2014) and TESSA02 (August 2015) brought together members of the trace explosives detection community in order to support the DHS objective of improving the performance of existing technologies within the security enterprise.

The trace explosives detection community relies heavily on contact sampling as a tool for aviation security and other non-aviation detection of explosives devices and identification of individuals who may have created or handled explosives. There is a desire within the community to unify current understanding of the mechanisms of contact sampling and to establish international standards for quantitative procedures and methods to measure surface sampling efficiency, baseline commercial off the shelf (COTS) systems and next generation sampling media.

This standardization will benefit the DHS Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and other federal, state, and local agencies tasked with detecting trace explosives, because it will help them identify the essential aspects of contact sampling that influence the effectiveness of their sampling protocols. The members of the trace explosives detection community will also benefit from this task order, as they will have access to a critical review of the state of the art technologies, materials, and protocols used in the contact sampling of explosives.

Photo caption: Low-resolution SEM image of freestanding micro-patterned traps used during contact sampling

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