Florida ports seeing STARS

Three Florida cities are buying low-cost imaging systems for their seaports

to help stem illegal exports of stolen automobiles to Central and South

America.

The Miami Port Authority ordered four Stolen Automobile Recovery Systems

(STARS), according to Jim Winso, Science Applications International Corp.'s

general manager for safety and security instruments operations. The Jacksonville

Port Authority ordered one system, and Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale

is negotiating to buy two systems, he said.

STARS is designed to enable U.S. Customs officials and port personnel

to scan the contents of cargo containers without impeding the flow of commerce.

The system, similar to an X-ray, uses a small amount of Cesium-137 to emit

radioactive gamma rays that can be photographed when they penetrate the

container. The detector tower is placed near travel lanes or weigh scales

at a port checkpoint.

A technician at the remote center matches external video of the container,

the image of the contents and the manifest to determine suspicious cargo

that needs to be physically inspected or tracked by law enforcement officials.

STARS is a low-resolution system in SAIC's family of Vehicle and Cargo

Inspection Systems (VACIS). Each system costs about $250,000, Winso said.

The Miami and Jacksonville orders total $1.4 million, with Miami also ordering

tollgate equipment and a remote operating center. Both systems will be installed

by early next year, according to SAIC spokeswoman Zuraidah Hashim.

According to the industry-sponsored National Insurance Crime Bureau,

nearly 450,000 cars and trucks were stolen nationwide in metropolitan areas

with ports or close to international borders in 1998. Each year more than

200,000 vehicles are smuggled out of the country.

Miami ranked sixth in vehicle thefts (20,977) among port facilities

or international border areas. A six-week demonstration of STARS by the

Miami-Dade County Stolen Auto Task Force recovered about $230,000 worth

of stolen vehicles earlier this year, Winso said.

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