Container securityDHS looks to tamper-proof cargo containers

Published 3 December 2009

DHS has been looking into many different technologies to protect U.S. boarders since 9/11. Now, the department is looking to the for ideas to help enhance security where some argue it is needed most — down by the docks.

Timothy Page writes that students and faculty at the University of Maine have been designing a tamper-detecting cargo container to make port security more feasible. While big rigs and trains do most of the national transporting, it is estimated that almost 90 percent of all traded imports and exports arrive through container ships.

>Within the layers of the material are tamper detection sensors implanted on all six sides of the container. The sensors allow cargo handlers to not only track and monitor where the shipments are located, but also if the doors have been tampered with and for how long.

The program for the research was funded by the DHS through the UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center. Professor Habib Dagher, director of the Advanced Engineering Wood Composite Center, and grad student Anthony Viselli have been active in the containers development since its early stages.

In an interview in the UMaine’s student newspaper, the Word Press, Viselli said that that the main goal was simply to develop an intrusion detector to prevent “questionable materials.” Four years later, the technology has advanced into a viable security precaution.

Not only has the UMaine’s design met all of the industries strength requirements, but the new design is more durable and requires less maintenance than steel. The composite components make the containers 15-20 percent lighter than existing containers, and have been found incredibly adaptable if ever integrated into the current system.<

The federal agencies with interest in cargo security include not only DHS, but also the Department of Defense, Department of State, and Department of Energy. Trouble is, the more than seven million cargo containers off-loaded at American seaports annually overwhelm the combined resources of these agencies.

Besides the UMaine’s design, other colleges, including Georgia Tech, have helped with their own crafty ideas. Yellow Jackets researchers developed a light weight sensor grid to incorporate in the composite walls, doors, and floors of the container which can help detect not only tampering, but monitor environmental conditions inside the container and detect damage to the contents during shipping.

Umaine’s project is still in development. The university researchers have began working with full-scale models as part of a five-year program to container research and development.