By land and sea
Technology, integration fuel secure border opportunities
- By Alice Lipowicz
- Oct 12, 2007
Capt. Curtis Dubay, deputy commander of the Coast Guard's Maritime Domain Awareness program, helps oversee border protection on the Great Lakes.
In a Senate hearing room Sept. 27, a video showed a man walking across a meadow carrying a red duffel bag. The man was a Government Accountability Office investigator who was simulating a terrorist smuggling radioactive materials into the United States from Canada.
The apparent ease with which the investigator crossed the U.S./Canadian border is the latest event to call attention to surveillance needs at U.S. borders. It is an area of opportunity for government contractors that continues to expand and evolve six years after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Homeland Security Department Secretary Michael Chertoff launched the Secure Border Initiative and its technology component, SBInet, two years ago with the goal of gaining operational control of the country's southern and northern land borders by November 2010. The initiative has cost more than $2 billion to date and included the hiring of thousands of border patrol agents. It has also sparked a boom in information technology tools that facilitate surveillance and information sharing.
The prospect of monitoring 6,000 miles of land borders and 6,000 miles of coastline in the continental United States is daunting and, some say, unrealistic.
"It is very, very hard to cover every inch of the borders," said Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer at FedSources Inc., a research firm in McLean, Va. "My gut says we cannot spend enough money to provide even 85 percent coverage."
To date, attention has mainly focused on the U.S./Mexican border, where Boeing Co. is installing the first 28-mile phase of the estimated $8 billion SBInet border-surveillance system. That deployment is about four months behind schedule, which is raising concerns about how quickly the rest of the project will proceed and whether it will follow the same specifications.
In the meantime, government officials and industry experts say they are turning their attention to the development of surveillance and detection systems at the U.S./Canadian border and at port, coastal and Great Lakes borders. Opportunities in that area are just beginning to develop.Growth ahead
SBInet's first phase, Project 28, continues to be the litmus test for the ability of new sensor and network technologies to integrate with an effective surveillance system. Meanwhile, vendors are releasing new technologies that could help during later stages of the project.
Based on the recent GAO investigation, lawmakers are calling for renewed efforts to protect the often-overlooked U.S./Canadian border and are boosting plans to improve security at major seaports along the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines. Efforts to improve maritime security, which requires cooperation among multiple federal agencies, are reaching fruition through several forthcoming Coast Guard projects, including Command 21 (formerly Command 2010) and the Nationwide Automatic Identification System.
On the Great Lakes, the Coast Guard plans to coordinate its command centers, networks and waterway surveillance with the SBInet system being installed by the Customs and Border Protection agency.
"Theirs is SBInet. We like to call ours SBI-Wet," Capt. Curtis Dubay, deputy commander of the Coast Guard's Maritime Domain Awareness program, told Washington Technology.
Overall, border security is one of the fastest-growing areas of homeland security, with $14 billion in projected spending from 2007 to 2011, with a compound annual growth rate of 20 percent, according to a May report from the Homeland Security Research Corp. in Washington. An urgent need to tighten border controls, the availability of proven technologies, and support from Congress and the public are driving the market, the report states.
Congress approved nearly $9 billion for CBP in fiscal 2008 ? $50 million more than the White House requested and 8 percent more than the amount approved for fiscal 2007. Lawmakers also endorsed $1 billion for the SBInet system and fencing and $400 million for port security grants.
A significant portion of the funding will support surveillance, including cameras, radar, sensors, networks, software and integration services. However, a large chunk will likely pay for information-sharing technologies to help agents make sense of all the incoming data.
The government needs a way to integrate the sensor data into a common operational picture, Bjorklund said. "You can put out the sensors, which can bring in a lot of information, but how do you make decisions about how to respond to that threat?"
A common operational picture is a display of relevant information shared by more than one agency or command. It facilitates collaborative planning and assists in achieving situational awareness.
Many sensors, devices and network connections available for surveillance are becoming standardized, and developers are working to smooth integration and make the tools work together to achieve situational awareness, said Chris Josephs, director of homeland security at Cisco Systems Inc.
Developers must make numerous adjustments to improve performance and account for environmental effects, such as humidity slowing a wireless network.
"The science to all this is emerging," Josephs said. "It is an educational process."
Many operations centers for surveillance networks have hundreds of video and data feeds that are not effectively linked to one another, said John Delay, director of strategic management in the Government Solutions Unit at Harris Corp.'s Broadcast Communications Division. "We are putting [that information] into a display wall with automated alarms, applying intelligence in the network and allowing it to be more effective," he added.Southern troubles
Software integration problems have slowed the first phase of SBInet. Those problems had yet to be fully addressed at press time, and some speculate that if they are not resolved soon, DHS might have to revise its plans. Even if Project 28 is up and running, it is unclear whether all decisions ? especially compromises ? made in the first phase will carry over in the remaining 5,000-plus miles.
"Boeing may be more receptive to other contractors now," said a senior executive at a major systems integrator.
Even so, contractors want the problems resolved quickly so SBInet can move into its next phases in Texas and New Mexico. They are also prepared to offer their services if the government decides it needs different or additional technologies in later phases.
"There is a new generation of sensors coming on the market," said Bruce Walker, vice president of strategic planning for homeland security at Northrop Grumman IT sector, based in McLean, Va. Some examples include smart fencing, which has built-in sensors, and solar-powered wireless sensors from companies such as McQ Inc. Other products include video analytics from companies such as ObjectVideo Inc., CoVi Technologies Inc. and RemoteReality Corp. In addition, VidSys Inc. has devices for smoothing interoperability among sensors and networks.
If combined, those tools could serve as an effective monitoring system, IT experts say. "I'm confident that a technical solution to border surveillance is possible," said Barry Walker, president and chief executive officer of CoVi.Northern challenges
Government investigators easily snuck into the United States from Canada three times carrying duffel bags with mock radioactive materials, the GAO report states.
The northern border is presumed to be a lower risk than the southern border, with fewer illegal entries. There are only 1,000 U.S. border patrol agents in the north compared with 12,000 on the southern border. The environment is also different ? mostly forested and often cold and wet, compared with dry, hot desert expanses in the south.
"The northern borders are wide open for a solution that doesn't look a lot like towers because the environmental factors are so different," Northrop Grumman's Walker said. "Our plan for the Canadian border was fencing, radars, remote vehicles and aerial surveillance" with unmanned aerial vehicles.
Some of the sensors can be mounted on trees. For the Great Lakes region, Northrop Grumman proposed a version of a Broad Area Maritime Surveillance solution that it developed for the Navy.
Raytheon Co., which also competed for SBInet, is exploring ideas such as foliage-penetrating radar, which can detect human and vehicle movement through a dense forest canopy, said Andrew Cheney, chief technology officer at the company's homeland security division in Arlington, Va.
"From a technology standpoint, Canada presents different challenges," he said.Staff writer Alice Lipowicz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.