Nearby was a black padded box that looked like something in which one would expect to find weapons or ammunition, but instead held a hunk of streamlined hardware resembling a computer printer.

As foreign as these items might seem to those not in law enforcement, they’re standard-issue equipment for bomb squad technicians.

And that’s why the work of Edmond Police Detective Marion Cain is so important.

Along with Isaac Rutel, assistant professor in the Department of Radiological Sciences at the University of Oklahoma’s Health Sciences Center, Cain has worked for more than a year on a way to use existing bomb-detecting technology to combat emerging tactics by terrorists.

The concern, Cain said, is that terrorists may implant an explosive device within a willing conspirator or unwilling victim.

Such an attack has already occurred, albeit unsuccessfully, against a Saudi official, he said, and another potential incident caused the diversion of a U.S. Airways flight earlier this year.

Existing equipment
With municipal and state budgets around the country facing declines or stagnation, being able to use existing equipment to perform X-rays could help law enforcement in verifying a legitimate threat.

He said he first had the idea while sitting in a class for his bomb squad recertification, when someone asked if anyone had ever actually X-rayed a human body with a bomb attached to it.

“The room goes silent,” Cain recalled. “No one’s done it.”

Once back in Edmond, he wanted to see if it could be done using existing bomb tech equipment. There were some hurdles. Most bomb tech X-ray equipment, after all, is used to see what is inside suspicious packages, not bodies. And Cain needed to determine whether dosage from the handheld X-ray device would cause radiation sickness in subjects. 

'Out of the box'

There was also the issue of finding cadavers to test whether the device could actually see through a human body — not to mention getting clearance from his police superiors to work on the project.

“You walk in your captain’s office and you’ve had your coffee and know what you’re going to say, and then you present the idea to your captain: ‘I would like to go X-ray a dead body and attach a suicide device to it,’” Cain said.

Credit: Mark Hancock

“Police work —  a lot of what we do is out of the box, this is way out of the box,” Cain said. “This isn’t even in the stadium.”

Cain’s supervisors were supportive, and was able to obtain limited
access to cadavers to experiment with the X-ray gun. Rutel was brought
on board to help determine dosage.

Finally it was determined that the
devices did work to see through human bodies.

Rutel said he was pleased to apply his knowledge to law enforcement technology.

“I had always thought it would be great to apply our knowledge to something outside medical imaging, and if I had tried to plan it, there was absolutely no way it could have happened,” he said.

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