Dirty bomb detectors latest weapon against terrorism
(North Jersey Media Group )An SUV slows to a stop along the roadside, the lights of police cruisers flashing on the occupants’ faces.
“Driver and passenger: Exit the vehicle slowly!” shouts a state trooper flanked by local police officers, their guns drawn.
Within minutes, the motorists are in handcuffs, and a crew of specially trained officers is scouring the vehicle. Meanwhile, beeper-like gadgets they wear on their hips emit piercing wails.
As a way of preventing a nuclear or “dirty bomb” attack on lower Manhattan, federal authorities are outfitting North Jersey police departments and others in the tri-state region with radiation-detection equipment, enlisting them as sentries in safeguarding the nation’s largest city.
“This is terror preparedness truly reaching down to the local police officer,” said Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli, who co-hosted the unveiling Friday at the Sheraton Mahwah Hotel of a federal Department of Homeland Security pilot program. “And that’s the way it should be.”
Police in the area have been meeting over the past year as part of the “Securing the Cities” project, which will arm them with training and radiation detectors to help sniff out weapons that might be smuggled in through the suburbs.
More than 100 highly sensitive radiation detectors have been distributed to state police. Nearly as many will go to officers in Bergen and six other counties collected into a federal Urban Areas Security Initiative region.
Once DHS’ $80 million initiative is up and running, nearly 200 police departments within a 45-mile radius of Manhattan will have a variety of detection tools, including radiation-detecting “portals” through which commuter traffic will pass.
Such gateways – similar to ones being used at New Jersey seaports to scan ship containers – will be set up at highway tollbooths and weigh stations leading to New York City.
“We’ve brought together quite a capability in a short period of time that’ll be a model for the rest of the country,” said Jonathan A. Duecker, assistant commissioner of counterterrorism for the New York Police Department.
The best locations for the fixed portals are still being decided, federal and state officials said Friday. In Bergen County alone, authorities have identified at least 26 “hot spots” along the county infrastructure that could best snag a radiological device.
Until the portals are installed, police will make do with equipment distributed by the DHS’ Domestic Nuclear Detection Office.
During a demonstration Friday morning, a row of about two dozen cops standing along the roadside pulled RadEye Personal Radiation Detectors from their uniform belts. As a black SUV with a trace amount of radiological material drove by at around 30 mph, each beeper went off, one at a time.
About 120 new RadEyes, developed by Massachusetts-based Thermo Scientific, are now in the hands of state troopers, said Major John Hunt, who oversees the agency’s special operations unit.
Friday’s unveiling was as much a demonstration of cutting-edge equipment as a show of force to potential terrorists, authorities said.
“We’re letting them know that law enforcement is ready, and that the bad guys should know better,” Molinelli said.
“Securing the Cities” program in New Jersey:
COST: Roughly $80 million
PARTICIPANTS: Police agencies from Bergen, Passaic, Morris, Hudson, Essex, Middlesex and Union counties
EQUIPMENT: More than 1,200 personal radiation-detection devices are being distributed to local and state police
TRAINING: Authorities from the federal Domestic Nuclear Detection Office are teaching locals how to use the equipment
Features of the RadEye Personal Radiation Detector:
WEIGHT: 160 grams
SIZE: Think a deck of playing cards
HIGHLIGHTS: 5,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive than typical electronic radiation detectors; can find trace amounts of radiological material in a moving vehicle from a separate moving police car.
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