Tackling Terrorism Inventively

Would-be Edisons come up with new ways to whack and disarm the bad guys

A system of viewing mail before you receive it, filed by Ray M. Alden of Raleigh, North Carolina. This system would allow you to get a digital image of any upcoming mail before the postal service delivers it so you could decline any suspicious packages. Discover Card solicitations, for example.

A method of compiling electronic patient data to detect a bioterrorism attack, filed by R. Bharat Rao of the Siemens Corp. in Iselin, New Jersey. When enough people (as few as one) come down with symptoms consistent with smallpox or Ebola or severe acne or what have you, the computers figure it out and issue a warning.

A bladder for keeping oil inside of tankers, filed by Keith A. Robinson of Houston. He had submitted versions of his Kevlar and steel bladder before 9/11 but added features to thwart "terrorists who are attempting to cause oil spills by either dropping bombs, artillery shells, or the like on the upper surfaces of the ship, as well as impacting the sides and the underneath portions of the ship with torpedoes." Jerry Bruckheimer would salivate.

An antiterrorist ship control system, filed by John L. Rogitz of San Diego. Apparently to avoid a nautical version of 9/11, the system allows a satellite to track the path and speed of a tanker and stop it if it deviates from its stated headings -- and Fort Lauderdale beach remains free of all pollutants but portly tourists and hobo urine.

A self-contained apparatus for stopping hijacked trucks, filed by Robert L. Nathans of Billercia, Massachusetts. Apparently trying to avoid a highway version of 9/11, this system would shut down any truck that didn't periodically register the proper driver with a handprint or other biometric reading. It also puts weight sensors on the passenger side that could shut down the truck if a second person -- a hijacker with a gun to the driver's head, say -- entered the cab, especially if he did so without gas, grass, or ass.

Raczkowski's still cranking, too. A few weeks ago, he sent letters to George W. Bush, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, and Trent Lott, chairman of the Senate's subcommittee on aviation, inviting them to preview his next potential patent: "Riot Control System for Airplanes and Vehicles." He declines to reveal the specifics of the system but exudes confidence in its potential.

"If they follow my advice, airplanes will be safe 99 percent of the time," he says. "We cannot do anything if the pilot goes crazy."

As of press time, Messrs. Bush, Mineta, and Lott had yet to reply.

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