Omaha police gain $65K high-tech X-ray machine to quickly size up suspicious bags -
Published Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 1:16 am
Omaha police gain $65K high-tech X-ray machine to quickly size up suspicious bags

At last summer's College World Series, fans were paying closer attention than ever — but not to the action on the field.

Two months after the bombings at the Boston Marathon, attendees at one of Omaha's biggest events put in more calls than usual to police about bags, backpacks and anything else that looked abandoned, out of place or suspicious around TD Ameritrade Park.

And for the first time, Omaha police were able to assess the situation on the spot, without having to call in the full bomb squad. For the CWS, the police were using a high-tech X-ray machine borrowed from an Iowa law enforcement agency.

But now, with the help of a state terrorism prevention grant, Omaha is getting one of its own. The money will come out of this year's allocation from the State Homeland Security Grant program, approved this week by the Omaha City Council.

Law enforcement and fire agencies in Douglas, Sarpy and Washington Counties are set to receive $413,705 for a variety of preparedness projects. Other expenses include funding for a part-time terrorism analyst position at the Omaha Police Department, trailers for a large-scale emergency medical event and parts for air quality monitors used at hazardous materials incidents.

The $65,000 Open Vision X-Ray machine is placed over a bag or box that looks suspicious. With the same X-ray technology a doctor would use to look at a broken arm, the arch-shaped device looks inside the bag. Then, in real time, it displays its findings on a screen held by an operator.

“We would bring this device up there and in a matter of seconds, we could say: 'Oh, it's clothes in a bag,' ” said Lt. Tom Shaffer, the Omaha Police Department's emergency response unit commander.

That's a big change from the way things worked in the past. If police got a call about something suspicious, they'd send in the bomb squad truck. Then, they'd bring over different equipment, scan the bag, haul the equipment back to the truck and process the X-ray.

Depending on the location, the time saved by the new device might be a matter of a few minutes. But at an event with thousands of people or at a hard-to-reach location, the machine can make a considerable difference.

“If you think about going into a high-rise building and going 30 stories up — the convenience of having this thing is the real time and quickness,” Shaffer said.

If police have more reason for concern, the machine can be hooked up to a robot and operated remotely.

In the grant application, officials noted that the Boston bombings have made the need for this type of technology clear. But Shaffer said the department was working on getting the Open Vision X-ray long before that event.

He said no other local agencies have any similar equipment, and the machine will be available for use on calls around the three counties.

While the machine will make it easier for police to respond to a call without attracting attention, Shaffer said it seems that people have actually become more open to seeing the bomb squad at big events like the College World Series. This year, he said police made a point of making laps around the stadium with bomb-sniffing dogs, something they haven't done in the past.

“I know the bomb unit was just as vigilant before Boston and after Boston,” he said. “The difference is the public has been way more accepting of us being vigilant publicly.”

Contact the writer: Erin Golden    |   402-444-1543    |  

Erin covers the Omaha City Council and the Mayor's Office.

Explosive device blows hole in windshield, damages another car
Financial picture improving for city-owned Mid-America Center
19-year-old arrested in connection with March shooting
No injuries after fire at midtown's old Mercer Mansion
17 senators in Nebraska Legislature hit their (term) limits
Keystone XL pipeline backers blast 'political expediency' as foes hail ruling to delay decision
29-year-old Omahan arrested for 22nd time in Lincoln
Nebraska senators to study tax issues over break
Portion of Saddle Creek Road closed after water main break
Teenager arrested after woman's purse is snatched outside Omaha store
Police identify 21-year-old shot in ankle near 30th, W Streets
Cult murderer's death row appeal denied, but execution in limbo
Beau McCoy strikes Obama doll in TV ad; Democrats are not happy
Police: Slaying of woman in Ralston apartment likely over drugs
Interstate construction to cause lane shifts, closings in Omaha area
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
Omahan charged in fatal shooting in Benson neighborhood
Friday's attendance dips at Millard West after bathroom threat
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
Crack ring's leaders join others in prison as a result of Operation Purple Haze
Haze in area comes from Kansas, Oklahoma
Man taken into custody in domestic dispute
Omaha judge reprimanded for intervening in peer attorney's DUI case
Intoxicated man with pellet gun climbs billboard's scaffold; is arrested
Police seek public's help in finding an armed man
< >
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
The main speaker at today's Ivy Day celebration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a college president who grew up roping calves and earned her Ph.D. at the prestigious Oxford University in England.
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Breaking Brad: How many MECA board members can we put in a luxury suite?
As a stunt at the Blue Man Group show, MECA board members are going to see how many people they can stuff into one luxury suite.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »