Members of the Marine Corps chemical-biological response unit will be laying down their protective suits and picking up weapons in the near future.
The future will witness the National Guard taking over the responsibility,
said Col. Dwight Trafton, commanding officer of the Chemical Biological
Incident Response Force (CBIRF.)
The Guards civil support teams will be taking over as first military responders to a biological or chemical release. In November, the Defense Department announced a fielding plan for 11 new civil support teams, the final step toward fulfilling the request of Congress that every state and territory have one. The 11 teams that are to be funded in the Defense Appropriations Act for 2005 are: the District of Columbia, Delaware, Guam, Montana, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, South Dakota, U.S. Virgin Islands, Vermont and Wyoming.
CBIRF was formed in 1996. The unit has deployed to many national security events, and responded to anthrax and ricin contaminations of federal office buildings. Additionally, CBIRF teams have deployed overseas for exercises in Jordan, Bahrain, Iceland, Qatar, Kuwait, Italy, France, the Philippines and Japan.
Trafton had some advice on current and future equipment and training needs of all chem-bio units.
Among the requirements of decontamination teams are new level A protective suits. Each suit would have drinking tubes and longer lasting filters that will allow forces to finish their missions. We have got to come up with equipment that keeps us downrange longer.
In order for a unit to be effective, its members must have the utmost confidence in their gear, he said. Trafton noted that in the past, even bending down to pick up a person would give a Marine reason to pause. We have to have confidence in our equipment, he said. For that we need to train on contaminated ranges.
Trafton praised the National Guard civil support teams, and said that a key component of any successful mission was the psychological edge that comes from good training. Working in this environment is very, very scary, he said. When the Marines show up, they instill a level of confidence.
Smart Video Surveillance Gets Smarter
The U.S. government is showing a great deal of interest in the applications of state-of-the-art video surveillance tools and put some applications to the test in November. An evaluation was conducted for several weeks that probed their use in counter-terrorism scenarios.
The highest scoring system, AlertVision by Northrop Grumman, processes live video streams and highlights any behavior that meets its programmed criteria for suspicious activity. For example, a strolling figure would be framed with a green square, but that square would turn red if the person dropped a case and walked away from it. These triggers are programmable. The system would highlight the case and the figure, alerting the guard watching the video bank.
Also included in Grummans system is a license plate recognition scanner that can read and identify security-flagged vehicle plates in seconds.
Each competing technology in the test, which was hosted by the Energy Department and Air Force national assessment group, was installed in a site and tested for two weeks. Company officials trained government operators to respond to a variety of environmental and threat conditions.
The future of such surveillance systems is on display at Northrop Grummans center for smart security solutions in Reston, Va. Seated in movie-house chairs, visitors can gaze on a large-screen demonstration of next-generation perimeter security systems. Intruders are detected with sensors, including video cameras trained on any human-like objects sneaking onto restricted grounds. The system then tracks the intruder, camera to camera, as they make their way through the installation. The entire event is recorded on digital video.
Other systems take satellite pictures, digital photographs and architectural information to model locations to integrate video systems with other access control efforts. For example, staff for the center modeled downtown Honolulu, and with a mouse click on an icon an operator can get live camera feeds from any corner camera. Police and rescue units could also be marked with icons and tracked.
Most of the smart video systems on display are modular. People tracked on cameras appear bracketed by two boxes: a rectangle around their torso, and a square around the head. That allows facial recognition systems to be integrated into the system. By mapping the bone structure of a human face from the upper lip to the brow, the smart video solution can match the traits to a watch list database. The face images can be manipulated, tilted so the eye sockets match face-forward database images. Keith Ward, director of Northops identification and authentication solutions, said the new research area involves three-dimensional recognition systems that can model missing partssuch as the far side of a turned headfrom a photo image, that can be used to make a match.
Coast Guard Unveils New Security Boat
The Coast Guard recently debuted its new RB-S small response boat, a souped-up craft designed for more aggressive homeland security missions.
The 25-foot boat can be operated with as few as two crewmembers and can reach speeds of more than 45 knots. The RB-S offers a cruising range of 150 nautical miles at 35 knots. The new boats are assigned to the Coast Guards maritime safety and security teams.
The Department of Homeland Securitys acquisition of up to 700 response boats makes it one of the largest boat buys of its type in the world. The RB-S was developed as a replacement for an unstandardized fleet of approximately 300 shore-based boats, but the order has been increased to accommodate other agencies interested in increasing shore-based security.
The RB-S is fully equipped for use in Coast Guard search-and-rescue efforts as well as law enforcement and environmental protection missions. The $190,000 craft boasts twin 225-horsepower Honda outboards, and improvements including a reinforced bow, full shock- mitigating seating, a larger cabin and better navigation lights.
Survey: Bio Defenses Need Improvement
A recent survey of public and private leadership views of the state of Americas defenses against biological attack showed deep-seated doubts, inadequacies and shortfalls. The center for biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center polled 30 academic, industry and government leaders for answers on a number of questions, including the development of vaccines against biological attack.
While most interviewees agreed that there have been improvements since 2001, they also asserted that there are gaps in the detection and defense against manmade and natural epidemics. The general consensus was that the entire vaccine industry needed to be revolutionized in order to adequately respond to the threat, and that health professionals have few tools to help clinical testing for dangerous pathogens.
The report is a confirmation of oft-heard comments, but what is truly enlightening is the unattributed quotes sprinkled throughout the pagesobservations from industry and government experts that illustrate the state of anti-bioterrorism initiatives.
Rapid development of new drugs is a key technology we dont have, said one. Its up to the government to sponsor interactions between the different industries and assemble the units like a jigsaw puzzle into a complete entity that can deal with everything, said another.
The study participants gave a lukewarm review of Bioshield, a procurement program designed to promote the development of therapeutic drugs against likely bioterror agents. The lack of a bioterror market is often cited to explain the small number of new drugs being produced. The study participants viewed Bioshield only as a first, small step.
A comment that clearly came from an industry participant, noted: Bioshield has no impact on us as an industry
What would drive me to put a team on antibiotics when my commercial people are saying, dont do it, there is no return on investment on it.
Large contracts, however, are being signed. For example, in November the U.S. government announced the purchase of 75 million doses of a new-generation anthrax vaccine under a five-year, $877.5 million contract with VaxGen Inc. The company expects to begin delivery of the doses, enough to treat 25 million people, by 2006. VaxGen receives no payment until the vaccine is delivered, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
The study also noted that such weapons would likely be designed to counter a target nations responses. Why would anyone use anthrax to attack a civilian population and not make it antibiotic resistant? asked one participant.
Others questioned the wisdom of entering into a deal with the government unless a waiver against liability were available, since the product would only be tested in true conditions during a crisis, with unpredictable effects.
Reshuffling Under Way at Homeland Security
The office of air and marine operations (AMO) has been transferred from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a move that demonstrates DHS intent to integrate air and marine law enforcement personnel, missions and assets.
The Department of Homeland Security was created to streamline and focus our efforts to secure the United States. This merger is another large step in that direction, said Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for border and transportation security.
This transition is occurring in two phases. The planning phase was declared complete on October 31. The integration of all CBP air and marine personnel, missions and assets will occur in the second phase, which is expected to be complete by the end of 2005. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit has been plagued with a budget shortfall approaching $500 million.
At no time will there be a drop in air or marine support to legacy missions in any of the agencies served by these resources, Hutchinson added.
AMO currently has 11 air and marine branches, a pair of surveillance support branches, 11 air units and 16 marine units, located across the southern tier of the United States and Puerto Rico.
New branches are cropping up to help secure the northern border. A branch at Bellingham, Wash., began operations in August 2004 and another one in Plattsburgh, N.Y., began in October 2004. Three more will be set up in Montana, North Dakota and Michigan in 2005.
The office also is receiving new aerial assets. In 2004, AMO announced the purchase of the Pilatus (PC-12), a single-engine turbo-prop aircraft that will replace the aging C-12. The PC-12 has short take-off and landing capabilities and a sensor array designed to spot smugglers and other unauthorized border jumpers in the wilds along the U.S.-Canadian border.
With a crew of three, the new Pilatus can fly at 270 knots, reach an altitude of 30,000 feet and achieve a range of 2,260 miles. AMO will be deploying the Pilatus at all five sites along the border.
AMO includes more than 1,000 pilots, all graduates of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Ga.