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Nuclear threat detection with mobile distributed sensor networks


The ability to track illicit radioactive source in an urban environment is critical in national security applications. To this end, two modes of operation are common: positioning individual portal monitors, and deploying a network of distributed sensors. We address here the use of multiple detectors, mounted on moving vehicles, for the purpose of detecting nuclear threats. An example scenario is that of multiple taxi cabs each carrying a detector. The detectors’ positions are known in real-time as these are continuously reported from GPS data. The level of detected risk is then reported from each detector at each position. The problem is to delineate the presence of a potentially dangerous source and its approximate location by identifying a small area that has an elevated concentration of reported risk. This problem of using spatially deployed mobile detector networks to identify and locate risks is modeled and formulated here. The problem is shown to be solvable in polynomial time and with a combinatorial network flow algorithm. The efficiency of the algorithm enable its use in real time, and in areas containing a large number of deployed detectors. A simulation study, that takes into account false-positive and false-negatives reports from individual sensors, demonstrates the effectiveness of the algorithm in using the sensor network’s detection capabilities.


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Correspondence to Barak Fishbain.

Additional information

CBET-0736232 and NSF award No. DMI-0620677.

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Hochbaum, D.S., Fishbain, B. Nuclear threat detection with mobile distributed sensor networks. Ann Oper Res 187, 45–63 (2011).

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  • Nuclear threat detection
  • Network flow
  • Parametric cut
  • Counter-terrorism
  • Discrete event simulation