Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 12, 2007

Port of Tacoma Sight of New DNDO T&E Effort

Filed under: Infrastructure Protection,Port and Maritime Security,Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Jonah Czerwinski on May 12, 2007

DHS – through the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office – is starting to test and evaluate equipment focused on the blind spots around the shipment of containerized cargo.  While this effort satisfies Section 121(i) of the SAFE Port Act of 2006, it also reflects proposals made by the Homeland Security Advisory Council in 2005 when it’s Task Force on Preventing Weapons of Mass Effect explained the importance of adopting a layered prevention strategy.  Intermodal chokepoints served as key examples for the Task Force’s argument.  Specifically, the gaps in scanning and other preventive measures needed to be in place when a target item (i.e. cargo container) transferred one conveyance (boat) to another (rail).  The Task Force considered this next layer a “critical deficiency” that required the Department’s attention.The DNDO announced yesterday that: 

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will soon begin conducting multiple projects in the Port of Tacoma, Wash., to evaluate technology and concepts of operations for radiation detection that will scan cargo at various points in transfer from ship to rail.  By establishing a Rail Test Center (RTC) at the port, DHS will identify and evaluate radiological and nuclear detection solutions for intermodal rail port facilities that can be used across the country.

A major recommendation and recurring theme from the Nuclear Defense Working Group at the Center for the Study of the Presidency held that detection efforts were strongest when targets were in motion or under scrutiny already (i.e. cargo was only screened when checked, registered, or loaded, and usually at only one of those points).  Containers and other targets at rest were a glaring weakness, according to the NDWG, in need of innovative solutions that did not include scattering expensive scanners over every square inch of an airport or seaport.  The same DNDO announcement reminded me of that recommendation with this detail:

Projects being considered for further evaluation at the RTC include scanning cargo on the dock, during transport to the rail yard, entering the rail yard, in the container storage stack, during train assembly, and as the train leaves the port.

These are promising efforts, albeit nascent ones.  These are also only one part of the broader effort to reduce the threat of smuggled nucs.  Let’s hope the non-proliferation and Nunn-Lugar-type programs get the same attention.  More on that can be found at Jeffrey’s ArmsControlWonk.com.

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