Towards an Understanding of Explosive Detection Technology Adoption: Results from Two Surveys

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Empowering members of the publics to take an active role in the fight against terrorism is embedded in American culture. From programs like “See Something, Say Something,” to tip-hotlines, to the unplanned and heroic actions of citizens intervening to stop terrorism, members of the public have demonstrated an interest to help various agencies combat terrorism.

These examples rely heavily on active participation from individuals who make conscious decisions to contribute to the public good. Another way of integrating the public into an active layer of threat protection is by providing opportunities for them to contribute in advance of terrorist attacks. This study looks at perceptions related to explosive detectors, including motivators and barriers that affect adoption, based on two survey samples: a national general population sample (N = 500) and a national security officers sample (N = 250). Findings are discussed in terms of risk communication recommendations to maximize adoption.

Primary Findings:

Overall, both the general public and security officers are amenable to engaging with explosive detectors, with the average intention to engage positioned slightly over the middle of the scale.

Fostering feelings of warm glow (i.e., a warm feeling that arises from doing good things) should be emphasized as a main communication strategy to motivate device acceptance and adoption, among both the public and security officers. Fostering feelings of warm glow can be achieved by communicating about the importance that each individual plays in fighting terrorism and providing specific actions that individuals can undertake in this fight (i.e., engage with explosive detectors).

How individuals perceived these detectors (e.g., useful, easy to use) is important and the current context represent an opportunity to establish a favorable perception of explosives detectors. Public education about the devices, if done well, likely could increase detector adoption.

Communication strategies should also focus on reducing negative emotions (e.g., anxiety) toward carrying explosive detectors, the main barrier for engaging with these devices for both the general public and security officers. Increasing feelings of warm glow and crisis efficacy (i.e., one’s belief/confidence that they are able to take protective actions during a crisis) appears to have great potential in reducing negative emotions.

Federal government trust was not a significant predictor of adoption intentions for either sample. This is a promising finding given that American’s trust in the government is low. If trust was a strong predictor of explosive detector adoption intentions, this would be very difficult to overcome.

Although how people acquire information in the event of a terrorist attack did not affect intentions, it is important to note that the general public participants rated actively seeking for information on government websites significantly higher than reading newspapers, searching online, or waiting for information to be delivered to them. This finding highlights the importance of government websites as vehicles to disseminate information about terrorist-related events, and likely about explosive detectors, as well.

In contrast to the general population, the factors that influence adoption intention largely are different for security officials with the exception of warm glow. Motivators of adoption intention for security officials that did not emerge in the general population sample included perceived knowledge related to explosives and negative religious coping (i.e., a measure of “spiritual tensions and struggles within oneself, with others, and the divine”). Additional barriers emerged only for security professionals: motivation to help, positive religious coping (i.e., a measure of “a secure relationship with a transcendent force, a sense of spiritual connectedness with others, and a benevolent world view”), and patriotism. These findings reiterate the need to study segments of the population separately to understand decision-making processes, rather than generalizing across segments.


This study includes two surveys: one with a national general population sample (N = 500) and one with a national security officers sample (N = 250).


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