While the marshals board ships to ensure they arrive at the dock without incident, the Coast Guard's Port Security Units patrol key harbors-Houston, Los Angeles, Seattle, and others-in heavily armed, 25-foot Boston Whalers. These reserve units will soon be augmented by full-time Maritime Safety and Security Teams. The first of these teams was formed on July 3; a dozen more are supposed to be created within the next three years. These dedicated groups of armed officers will include go-fast boat operators and gunners in marine blue camouflage who will not only protect their own harbors but-like waterborne SWAT teams-be deployed to other ports around the United States in case of an attack.
In addition, there will be help from the Navy. In April 2002 the Department of Defense created the Northern Command to coordinate the Pentagon's responses to terrorism on U.S. territory, including navigable waterways: the shores along the East and West coasts, and the Gulf of Mexico. The Navy has also shifted 13 highly maneuverable, 170-foot Cyclone-class coastal patrol ships to the tactical control of the Coast Guard. "We're going to bring our littoral warfare resources into domestic waters," says Rear Adm. Richard West, oceanographer of the Navy.
Nearly 6 Million cargo containers are shipped to U.S. shores each year. Just 2 percent of those huge metal boxes are physically examined. But since 9/11, under the Customs Service's Container Security Initiative, U.S. Customs officials have been stationed in foreign ports to prescreen U.S.-bound cargo ships. High-risk containers are identified and inspected, and in the near future special "smart seals" will be applied that will electronically indicate whether a container has been tampered with in transit.
Meanwhile, cargo inspectors here at home are getting a boost from a truck-mounted machine that costs about $1.2 million and resembles a heavy-duty cherry picker. Called the Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System, it shoots low-intensity gamma rays that are generated by the radioactive isotope Cesium-137 at shipping containers, offering inspectors a partial view of what's inside. Gamma rays are more effective than X rays for this job because their shorter wavelengths are more energetic. As a result, they are less easily absorbed by solid material and can penetrate through more than 4 inches of steel.
Customs Service Chief Inspector Steve Baxter and I are sitting in the cab of one of these machines. It backs down a line of parked trucks on San Francisco's Pier 80, its double-jointed arm systematically moving over shipping containers that have just been offloaded from a Latin American cargo vessel. "Without this machine, that's our main technology," Baxter says, pointing to a pair of heavy-duty red bolt cutters and a pry bar lying on the cement quay.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.