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Decision Analysis





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Developed partially under grants from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office under Grant Award Number 2008-DN-077ARI001-02 and the National Science Foundation (CBET-0735735). The work was done atVirginiaCommonwealthUniversity. The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as necessarily representing the official policies, either expressed or implied, of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or the National Science Foundation.

Date of Submission

May 2015


In recent years, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has installed radiation sensors to screen cargo containers entering theUnited States. They are concerned that terrorists could use containers to smuggle radiological material into the country and carry out attacks with dirty bombs or a nuclear device. Recent studies have questioned the value of improving this screening system with new sensor technology. The cost of delays caused by frequent false alarms outweighs any reduction in the probability of an attack in an expected cost analysis. We extend existing methodology in three ways to demonstrate how additional factors affect the value of screening investments. We examine the effect that screening has in discouraging terrorists. We model multiple levels of screening. Finally, we consider additional objectives beyond cost. We find that the conclusion about screening depends on key inputs to the probability model (reflecting uncertainties) and to the value function (reflecting the stakeholders’ fundamental objectives).


© 2010 INFORMS. This is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication as Merrick, J. R. W. and McLay, L A. (2010) Is Screening Cargo Containers for Smuggled Nuclear Threats Worthwhile? Decision Analysis 7(2): 155-171.

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VCU Statistical Sciences and Operations Research Publications