We’ve previously written about the need for US Customs and Border Protection to monitor for radiation among passengers at the borders. Customs officials everywhere want two things that essentially constitute a paradox; the orderly, smooth, efficient flow of people through checkpoints, in appropriate volumes, but also comprehensive screening with no ‘escapes’; they don’t want to miss anything or let a radiation source pass through without being detected.
And it’s also true that problems arise when people feel harassed; Customs does not want travelers to feel unduly or undeservedly scrutinized, field complaints or see delays in the process.
This led to the realization that the best way to address the problem would be to use multiple small Personal Radiation Detectors (PRDs) — wearable Geiger counter-like devices that enables officers to screen people while they’re just interacting and passing in a normal flow of entry and exit at checkpoints or portals within the countries.
In Continental Europe, as well as in the UK, countries are generally smaller in geographic area, so it is possible to pass through a number of borders and checkpoints within a single day’s travel. Without a simplified way of accommodating the screening process, travel would become much more delayed and problematic for everyone involved. The simplicity of Personal Radiation Detectors and their ease of use means that not only Customs officers can wear and use it, but also Police officers, Border Patrol officers along the U.S. Southern border, and security personnel, just about anyone. (This also includes First Responders who might be inadvertently exposed to high dosages of radiation when responding to the crash site of a train, airplane, or other cargo-carrying vehicle.)
Customs teams will use a variety of strategies in detection, and Personal Radiation Detectors can provide significant detector sensitivity for search and find, combined with accurate high dose rate radiation measurement. For example, there might be a system of temporary checkpoints, where travelers might be routed through a major border crossing within a certain range of the border, then a little further down the road have to additionally pass through temporary checkpoints where agents perform screening as well, distributing the load. Having multiple humans in the chain, all provided with detection devices enables customs teams to be highly effective and very efficient while at the same time moving volumes of people.
What are customs officers engaged in radiation monitoring looking for? Many radiation sources are by their nature not dangerous. But the primary target really is what’s known as Special Nuclear Material (SNM), which can be used for assembling a nuclear weapon. Radioactive isotopes that, in consolidation, could be used by terrorists to make a dirty bomb include Plutonium, Uranium, and Neptunium (Pu, U, Np). That’s why it’s critical to know if radioactive material is present in order to assess the potential threat.
Airports are a primary focus for radioactive monitoring, in part because they typically see a very high volume of traffic, they are international ports of entry, and vary in physical structure, making them sometimes more difficult to cover. The casual observer might note how every airport looks different when you pass through its international terminal. And yet with border security, the scenario is different; it simply isn’t possible to route everyone coming in through a single area or gate.
But whether or not the passage is an airport concourse or a border crossing, the small wearable PRDs allow customs officers to mix and mingle. Travelers don’t want to have an officer standing at a station and monitoring a security point, or for passengers to feel as though they are coming into or leaving a prison, depending on how you want to look at it. Countries almost universally want the screening to be fast, hassle-free, and efficient, especially in their home countries, where most of the people entering are citizens to begin with.
For additional details, read: A new approach to border protection