Radiation detectors have been an essential piece of equipment in the war on terror for quite some time now. Designed to detect so-called "dirty bombs," they have been installed at Metro stations, airports and harbors. Police officers wear them on their belts on patrol.
These devices are so small they can be clipped on an officer's belt and set to vibrate or beep at the slightest abnormal level of radiation - a tool now in the hands of Montgomery County Police - who plan to use them along the Red Line and in large crowds.
If you glanced at Sergeant Kevin Parker of Montgomery County Police as he walked through the Rockville Metro station Monday, you would likely have no idea he was wearing a radiation detection device. It is a sensor so sophisticated, medical patients can set it off.
"It can not only detect radiation, but it can differentiate between every day radiation medical patients to radiation that could potentially be used by a terrorist or somebody willing to do harm against us," said Sergeant Parker.
In a demonstration, Sergeant Parker and Officer Chris Bohrer showed how the device will react if it comes in contact with radiation.
"If a radiation source comes near the detector, you can see the red lights flashing. It's vibrating in the Sergeant's hand and it shows the change in the radiation level with this check source," said Officer Bohrer. "Once I move it farther away, the reading has gone down."
The devices have been in use for a few months in the county and have detected more than a few suspicious situations.
"We have had alarms go off, and in each case, the officers were able to determine the source as not being a threat," said Sergeant Parker.
But the portable devices are only used to alert the police. Another more sophisticated device is used to analyze the material being detected.
"I can also go to a screen that can show us what the source is," said Officer Bohrer.
Police say this device can download the information it has detected onto a laptop where it can be sent via the Internet to a lab for further analysis.
Police say the plan is to use the portable devices where large crowds typically gather. For example, golf tournaments or fairs.
Montgomery County Police have acquired approximately 40 of these portable devices through a federal grant.
In addition to being used in and around Metro rail stations, some of them have been given to the motor carrier unit for checks on trucks and other vehicles.