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KNOXVILLE — A University of Tennessee project could help prevent terrorist attacks through U.S. seaports.

Dr. Arun Chatterjee, a UT civil and environmental engineering professor, heads development of a computer simulation model that analyzes seaport safeguards, checkpoints, marine shipments, and other data to help identify and prevent terrorism at seaports.

“Our intent is to find out where seaport weaknesses may be, where more attention should be given, and where more resources should be allocated,” Chatterjee said. “It is not feasible to open every container that is shipped, but there are ways of assigning risks.”

Dr. Rapinder Sawhney, who heads simulation modeling research in the college’s Department of Industrial and Information Engineering, developed the model’s statistical framework.

Sawhney’s research includes developing ways to analyze reliability problems in production processes for industrial firms.

Many of the mathematical and probability functions in models he developed for industry can be used to evaluate and improve reliability of port inspection processes to detect dangerous containers, he said.

Another project team member, Dr. Daniel B. Koch, heads the Applied Visual Center in the department of electrical and computer engineering and oversaw visual aspects of the simulation model.

Chatterjee said the model could take information such as the container’s port of origin, the sender, the receiver, background on the crew and other data, and help seaports detect where they are most vulnerable to a terrorist attack.

“There are clues that can be used to screen out containers that are less risky and to decide where resources would be better used,” Chatterjee said.

“Through this simulation model, we could help port security at least to make the process more efficient. It will never be 100 percent, but at least the probability of stopping the terrorist would increase.”

Chatterjee said seaports are more vulnerable than airports, where all passenger baggage is opened or screened with some sort of x-ray device.

Marine containers go through Coast Guard inspections, U.S. Customs documentation, and other safeguards, but only about five percent of containers are opened or x-rayed, he said.

The UT model is only a basic framework funded by a seed grant through the Southeastern Transportation Center. Chatterjee hopes to generate interest and expand it into a full-blown computer simulation model.

He is confident that the project can improve seaport safety and provide protection from terrorist attacks.

“There is no question that this model could help protect seaports from terrorist. There are a lot of different scenarios that could be (simulated) once a model is developed.

“It should be a very good tool to make decisions about where to put more resources to provide the best, most efficient safeguards against terrorism.”

A copy of the project report is available here in PDF format.

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