Optimal Stopping Analysis of a Radiation Detection System to Protect Cities from a Nuclear Terrorist Attack


*Address correspondence to Lawrence M. Wein, Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA; lwein@stanford.edu.


We formulate and analyze an optimal stopping problem concerning a terrorist who is attempting to drive a nuclear or radiological weapon toward a target in a city center. In our model, the terrorist needs to travel through a two-dimensional lattice containing imperfect radiation sensors at some of the nodes, and decides at each node whether to detonate the bomb or proceed. We consider five different scenarios containing various informational structures and two different sensor array topologies: the sensors are placed randomly or they form an outer wall around the periphery of the city. We find that sensors can act as a deterrent in some cases, and that the government prefers the outer wall topology unless the sensors have a very low detection probability and the budget is tight (so that they are sparsely deployed).