100% Container Scanning in Ports – a solution on the horizon?

Decision Sciences maintains that 100% container scanning is possible without bringingcommerce to a crawl (Credit: Maritime Professional)

Decision Sciences maintains that 100% container scanning is possible without bringing
commerce to a crawl (Credit: Maritime Professional)

The following article published by Maritime Professional describes a new technology, already in use by a major terminal operator, which appears to put the requirement for 100% scanning of all inbound containers back on track. The article has been doing the rounds on a social media platform with some sceptism still being shared on its viability as a ‘100%’ scanning solution. All the same its always interesting to learn of new innovations. I guess the US Treasury has spent billions sponsoring these types of tech-development so as to vindicate its original threat to the rest of the world! (For the PDF version please click here!)

In July 2007, U.S. legislators passed a law requiring 100% scanning of U.S. bound containers at their last foreign ports by the year 2012. That federal requirement nearly died a quick death recently but has received a reprieve of sorts. Originally scheduled to take effect July 1, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in May of 2012 notified Congress that she would use her authority under the 2007 law to delay implementation by two years. Napolitano said systems available to scan containers would result in a negative impact on trade capacity and the flow of cargo, and that some foreign ports do not have the physical characteristics needed to install such systems. If the last part was true then, however, it may not necessarily be the case now.

As reported in our 1Q 2012 edition of MarPro, pilot efforts were established at several foreign ports under the Secure Freight Initiative (SFI) targeting in-bound containers for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) prior to loading. Objections by trading partners surfaced and were confirmed by the Government Accounting Office (GAO).

In her testimony before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said in part, “DHS has learned a great deal from these pilots, but it has also encountered a number of steep challenges. Some of these issues relate to the limits on current technology. Technology doesn’t exist right now to effectively and automatically detect suspicious anomalies and cargo. This makes scanning difficult and time-consuming. …Therefore, DHS is compelled to seek the time extensions authorized by law with respect to the scanning provision.” At the time DHS’s Science & Technology Directorate (S&T) had already spent nearly $10 million on efforts to develop a container security device; to no avail.

New Technology: New Hope for Compliance
As the U.S. government continues to try to find a solution to its own scanning requirements, it also continues to fund testing when a promising solution comes to light. In September of last year, Decision Sciences International Corporation (DSIC), a provider of security and detection systems, announced that it was awarded a $2.7 million contract by the DHS Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) for an Advanced Technology Demonstration (ATD) of its Multi-Mode Passive Detection System (MMPDS). Under the contract, DSIC supports government testing of MMPDS intended to evaluate the system’s effectiveness and readiness for transition to production. Before that, Decision Sciences was awarded another contract – this one worth $400,000 – by the U.S. Department of Defense to test muon tomography based scanning systems capable of detecting explosives. 

The Multi-Mode Passive Detection System – how it works
Based in Chantilly, VA, with a development/production facility in Poway, CA, DSIC and its 27 employees and contractors hope to bring together hardware and software development, systems integration and cutting edge science to improve the safety and security of global commerce. Based on patented technology invented by scientists at the Alamos National Laboratory, the Multi-Mode Passive Detection System (MMPDS) was developed with private sector investment and expertise. MMPDS is billed as a safe, effective and reliable automated scanning device for detecting unshielded to heavily shielded nuclear and radiological threats. In reality, and as MarPro found out during a focused site visit in Freeport, Bahamas, the system does so much more.

DSIC’s passive scanning technology uses naturally occurring cosmic ray muons to detect potential threats in cargo, vehicles and other conveyances. DSIC President and CEO Dr. Stanton D. Sloane explains, “Equipment can generally be classified into two main categories; active and passive. Active systems include x-ray and/or radiation technologies. In other words, they add some sort of radiation or energy to the environment. Our system is 100 percent passive; we don’t generate any additional energy. We simply use the existing cosmic ray ‘muons’ to do the scanning. When cosmic rays hit the upper atmosphere, they create showers of atomic particles. One of the particles is a muon. High in mass, muons travel at near the velocity of light. Because of this, muons penetrate materials … even very dense materials … readily.

Normal cosmic radiation is 5000 muons per minute and penetrates through lead, steel, concrete and just about anything else. Sloane adds, “That’s really the breakthrough technology. We have upper and lower detectors. As the muons go through the upper detector we calculate their trajectory. As they go through the bottom detector, we calculate their trajectory and we look for a change in that track. The angular change of the track is a function of the density of the material that the muons go through. The denser the material that the muons penetrate, the larger the angular change.”

Beyond the efficacy of the system is its vivid imagery of the inside of the container it is scanning. With x-ray machines, if something is found, the container must be taken to the side, analysis performed and delays to the container magnified. Not so with Decision Sciences technology: false positives are eliminated because the density of typical items – and the dangerous ones too – can be catalogued.

Continue reading →