Improving Risk management
Protecting shipping containers from terrorists
A special detection kit developed by European researchers will help protect Europe’s ports from being used by terrorists for attacks on the continent.
A massive 200 million shipping containers a year are moved between the world’s major seaports, with much of the traffic inbound to Europe. The problems associated with securing such a vast number of containers provide terrorists with perhaps their best opportunity to smuggle weapons and explosives into the EU.
However, this scenario is set to become a lot less likely as a special detection kit, developed by researchers in the EURITRACK project, is deployed in ports around the continent.
The project team focused on the development and testing of a non-intrusive kit able to determine the chemical composition of objects in sealed containers, without having to open them.
Risk is too high
The most common system in place for checking the content of containers is simply not always capable of distinguishing between benign and threatening material, meaning the risk of terrorists smuggling in explosives or even ‘dirty’ bombs is quite high.
Until the new system tested by the project is deployed, inspections of containers at our seaports will continue to be based on X-ray systems, which provide limited information, such as shape and density, about objects in containers.
However, terrorists are becoming increasingly sophisticated and are able to disguise weapons and explosives from the current inspection methods.
More stringent checks
Rather than reinventing the wheel, the EURITRACK researchers decided to use the existing X-ray detection system. They added to its effectiveness by providing additional information on the type of objects that could be suspected of being terrorist threats
They specifically added information about chemical compositions of objects which cannot be disguised. A system providing details of an object’s chemical composition can identify any substance, including dangerous ones. As an added bonus, the device can identify drugs, which are also often smuggled in containers.
The researchers also decided that a two-pronged approach was needed to make the system even more sophisticated in detecting suspect materials. They developed the hardware able to conduct more stringent searches and the software to guide the system.
Simplicity of operation
Simplicity of use needed to be built in as the equipment would be manned by non-expert controllers, such as customs officials. Due to the sheer volume of container traffic, searches would also need to be conducted as quickly as possible.
EURITRACK came up with a prototype device, called the Tagged Neuron Inspection System. The device uses neutrons, tiny subatomic particles, to do the searching and identifying of potentially dangerous goods in containers. oftware specially developed for the device analyses the readings and compares them to a central database containing those given off by a range of known hazardous substances.
Making Europe safer
The research demonstrated the whole system of hardware and software, named the European Illicit Trafficking Countermeasures Kit, at a conference held in Rijeka, Croatia in September 2007.
The demonstration showed that the system could be operated by customs officers without difficulty. The full inspection of a container, including X-ray inspection using the kit, took less than 15 minutes.
The rollout will help make Europe a more secure place and will also assist EU exporters sending goods to comply with the rules set by security conscious destinations.
Fields of science
- engineering and technologymedical engineeringdiagnostic imagingx-ray radiography
- natural sciencescomputer and information sciencessoftwaresoftware development
- engineering and technologyelectrical engineering, electronic engineering, information engineeringelectronic engineeringautomation and control systems
Call for proposal
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Funding SchemeSTREP - Specific Targeted Research Project