The Broad Mind | Through the looking glass

Metal detectors and more.

Terror and security — they are two sides of the same coin. Over the years, we have grown familiar with the sight of a plethora of security devices, posters, agencies and instruments in our lives. The ubiquitous Door Frame Metal Detector (DFMD) is a device that most of us are familiar with. A few steps through the frame, a few beeps and a pat down later, we are lulled into a sense of security, a comfort zone of peace, through the looking glass into another world– or so it seems.

Courtesy: Time

A DFMD is essentially an electronic coil, which senses changes in its electrical field due to metals that cut across its force field. The sensitivity of the device is calibrated/ adjusted based on parameters that are variable, much like a sieve whose size is adjusted as per needs. Common detectors may be set to higher sensitivity thresholds, as people walk through with adequate metal with them, car keys, mobile phones, lucky charms, hand bags etc. This is one of the vulnerabilities of the system. In case the threshold is set at a higher level, adequate pieces of metal (read parts of a weapon) can be smuggled across. Moreover, the sensitivity of the DFMD is lower at the point where it touches the floor level. A particular brand of DFMD states that its devices are low in sensitivity to detect GRENADES. This implies that while you may not be able to smuggle in say an AK-47 or a Pistol, but a grenade may be possible! Alarming inference indeed.

The Hand Held Metal Detector (HHMD) is a tad better. However, it must scan the target at very close proximity (30 – 80 mm). Also its sensitivity is more directed towards gold, silver, platinum, copper & brass. This is of some help as brass is what bullets are made of. However, when the brass is shielded, the sensitivity decreases.

Most DFMDs & HHMDs are manned by very poorly trained/ motivated guards, with little or no training, and who do 12 hours of duty at a stretch for a mere Rs 3000 – 5000 per month. Even the way they frisk a person is questionable. Add to that the rush of impatient and irate customers and clients, and we have a disaster in the making. I dare say that a pistol, broken up into its basic parts, could easily be smuggled into MOST security zones, by a group of people.

The need of the hour is to train both our security agencies as well as the public at large. We must as citizens, understand our duties towards assisting security forces, who at best have a thankless, boring, mundane, low paying & stressful job. Security Agencies, particularly the private ones, on their part, must understand their critical vulnerabilities; they must ensure adequate checks and balances to prevent subversion and must ensure a minimum basic training standard.

India is, and will continue to be a target for terror for a long time…at least for most of our lifetimes. We must take a leaf from the pages of history of one of the most ravaged countries in the world – Israel. Every citizen is aware of his/ her duties, much before they ask for privileges or demand their rights. The existence of that valiant country has depended on the strength and resilience of its citizens. We cannot outsource the complete responsibility of our security to agencies and sit twiddling our thumbs, and playing the blame game.

Awake, arise and let us all do our duty in ensuring security – the life you save may be your own!

Colonel (Retd) Ajay Ramakrishnan, a recipient of the Sena Medal for Gallantry, has flown scores of difficult, critical and lifesaving missions during the Kargil War. You can follow him on twitter at @whirlybirdguy

DISCLAIMER: This is an archived post from the Indian National Interest blogroll. Views expressed are those of the blogger's and do not represent The Takshashila Institution’s view.