High-tech cameras, sensors and possibly satellites will be used to tighten the southern border with Mexico, not a concrete and steel wall, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said at a news conference.
An impenetrable wall or fence spanning the entire border, a concept some lawmakers have proposed, is not practical or affordable, Chertoff said. “We’re going to have a virtual fence … It’s going to be a smart fence, not a stupid fence —a 21st century fence, not a 19th century fence,” Chertoff said.
The secretary offered few details concerning DHS’ concepts for using satellite technologies, other than to say they might be used “to get greater visibility about what’s going on on the border.”
A newly formed secure border initiative program office is contemplating procedures to develop new technologies. It will look at “where we need to implement new technology, where we can improve upon what’s existing, and what areas we just need to think outside the box,” said DHS spokesman Jarrod Agen, who added there were few details on what kind of space-based applications would be proposed.
Matthew Farr, homeland security analyst for the consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, said throwing the satellite concept out there during the press conference was probably “for public consumption.” Given that remote-sensing satellites cannot deliver the real-time, streaming video that an unmanned aerial vehicle can, it’s difficult to know what Chertoff is thinking, Farr said. “They could be used to determine staging areas and high-traffic routes,” he added.
Less than a week after the Bush Administration’s border initiative announcement, NASA signed a memorandum of understanding with DHS to “aggressively apply joint expertise and technologies to improve national and homeland security.”
NASA spokesman Dave Steitz said the agency’s engineers have a lot to offer DHS. Possible areas of cooperation include aeronautics security, disaster assessment through its remote-sensing satellites and communications. Geospatial imaging for disaster assessment and mitigation are more likely space-based applications for DHS, he said.
“We don’t do surveillance, per se,” Steitz noted.
Meanwhile, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has reported some success with its lone UAV, currently in operation near Tucson, Ariz. David Aguilar, Border Patrol chief, said the UAV has assisted in apprehending more than 1,000 illegal border crossers and interdicting 400 pounds of narcotics since the beginning of the 2005 fiscal year.
Tightening border security with such technologies will be expensive, Farr said. His firm is predicting the U.S. federal border security market to increase from $5.9 billion in 2004 to $8.1 billion by 2011.
DHS Scraps Flight List Plan
The Department of Homeland Security has scrapped plans to require airlines with flights originating overseas to provide U.S. Customs and Border Protection with a list of passengers and crew members one hour before takeoff.
Currently, airlines and ocean-going vessels are required to send CBP the advanced passenger information system (APIS) manifest shortly after departure. The “APIS minus 60 plan” regulation was proposed in April 2005, but is now dead, Robert Jacksta, executive director of DHS’ traveler security and facilitation office, told the Airports International Council.
The airlines told DHS that the plan simply “could not work,” Jacksta said.
The manifest could not be finalized 60 minutes prior to takeoff because many passengers connect to flights at airport hubs where allotted transfer times are often less than an hour.
Instead, the CPB is in discussions with the airline industry to create an “advanced quick query system” that will clear passengers instantly as they pick up their boarding passes.
“The carriers think the technology is there, and CBP is willing to work with them to have that connectivity.”
Thomas Marten, vice president of SITA INC Government Solutions, an airline industry consortium, said in an e-mail to National Defense that several countries, including Australia, have been using such systems since the beginning of the decade. “The technology is quite mature,” he said. A major roadblock will be making sure all passports are machine-readable, he added.
Other changes are underway for international travelers, said Jim Williams, director of the US-VISIT program. For example, DHS is pressing to have foreign visitors applying for visas to submit all 10 fingerprints instead of two. Increasing the number will help expand the watch list and make the agency’s standards more compatible with FBI databases.
The trick in airports is to make sure the new process does not slow down already long lines. “We know that time matters in the airports,” Williams said. Taking a set of 10 prints will require an applicant to make three motions with his hands instead of two, and in airports, “seconds matter,” he added.
DHS is working “very hard with the fingerprint-scanner industry to make sure they can advance their products to meet our operation processing times,” Williams added.
Coast Guard to Deploy UAV
Bell Helicopter will begin building the Coast Guard’s fleet of Eagle Eye vertical unmanned aerial vehicles this month, with the first to be delivered by early 2007, said Lt. Cmdr. Todd Schmidt, Coast Guard UAV platform manager, at an Institute for Defense and Government Advancement seminar.
The VUAV is a crucial part of the Integrated Deepwater System to modernize the service’s hardware, Schmidt said. “Without the VUAV, the system won’t be able to function,” he added.
Similar to the Marine Corps’ V-22 Osprey, the Eagle Eye will be able to fly in helicopter or fixed-wing mode. The Coast Guard chose the design because the pitching and rolling on cutter flight decks would have made it difficult for skid-landings. The Eagle Eye also has a low center of gravity, which will make landings easier, Schmidt said. Unlike the Osprey, the Eagle Eye will have only one engine and no hydraulic system. This allows for ease of maintenance, but “if that engine fails, then game over,” he added.
National security and operational control cutters will be able to accommodate two Eagle Eyes in their hangars along with one H-65 helicopter, Schmidt said. The contract with Bell Helicopter calls for 45 aircraft.
The VUAV can fly 100 nautical miles for about three hours. Its primary duty will be to identify boats as possible targets for boarding, Schmidt said.
Training for operators will begin this year. The Federal Aviation Administration has set stringent rules for the qualifications for the pilots in order to minimize the risk for in-air collisions with other aircraft, Schmidt said. For example, the FAA is requiring the operators to be instrument rated pilots.
N.J. Beefs Up Chemical Plant Security
New Jersey became the first state to adopt mandatory chemical-plant security requirements last year, ending a four-and-half year debate in the statehouse that began after the 9/11 attacks.
Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey, a Democrat, announced the new measures after facing some resistance from the chemical industry and Republican lawmakers.
New Jersey has 140 facilities that must comply with the standards, including 43 that are subject to the state’s toxic catastrophe prevention program. These select plants must adopt safer technology to prevent attacks or accidents, according to a statement from the governor’s office.
A state government-led task force adopted measures recommended by the American Chemistry Council’s responsible care program and the American Petroleum Institute’s security guidelines, many of which already were being put into place voluntarily.
Under the new requirements, chemical facilities will have to develop an assessment of vulnerabilities and hazards that might be exploited by potential terrorists and develop a response plan.
The plan must include a review of:
• Security systems and access to facility grounds.
• Security needs outside the facility perimeter that would reduce the vulnerabilities to an attack.
• Employee and contractor back ground checks.
• Information and cyber security systems.
Sen. Jon Corzine, a Democrat who took office as the state’s governor on Jan. 17, applauded the new measures in a statement. He noted that New Jersey has seven chemical plants, stretching from Port Newark to New Liberty International Airport, that could affect 1 million people if they were to fall under attack or suffer an accident.
He lamented Congress and the White House’s failure to adopt similar measures nationwide.
“Unguarded chemical facilities are a ticking time bomb and represent a threat to our national security,” Corzine said.
FEMA Struggled to Track Commodities
The delivery of commodities, such as medical supplies, ice, food and temporary shelters, is both important to victims of natural disasters and a high-profile task for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Failures to distribute these items would be reported widely in the news media, and cause further embarrassment to the already beleaguered agency.
But FEMA’s ability to track crucial items is being hampered by outdated technologies, according to one official.
Drew Douglas, operations manager of the agency’s mapping and analysis center, said technologies such as barcode and global positioning system tracking, common in the commercial transportation industry, have yet to be fully implemented at FEMA. Instead, the agency relies on truckers and others in the supply chain to phone or e-mail in their whereabouts to headquarters.
“Truckers are truckers. They’re not used to calling in every hour and telling somebody where they are,” Douglas said at a homeland security conference sponsored by Market*Access International, Inc.
And during Hurricane Katrina, power outages and damaged communication infrastructure made using commercial systems difficult, he told National Defense.
“The planners want to know where the commodities are and what they are,” he said. Meanwhile, at FEMA headquarters in Washington, D.C., Douglas’ center struggled to print 40,000 paper maps showing the locations and estimated delivery times of the commodities. The office was so overtaxed during Katrina, the two specialized printers used to make the maps broke down, requiring replacement in the middle of the disaster.
Static paper maps should be eliminated altogether, Douglas said, and the data should be distributed digitally on computer screens.
When FEMA will be able to upgrade these systems is unclear. Department of Homeland Security officials still are pondering what solutions to undertake and have not requested funding from Congress to modernize the tracking system, Douglas said.
Bioterror Preparedness Said Lacking
Efforts by federal and state governments to prepare for public health catastrophes, such as biological attacks and pandemics, have fallen short, according to a report issued by the Trust For America’s Health, a nonpartisan advocacy group.
“Four years after Sept. 11, 2001, there is still little consensus about priorities and objectives for bioterrorism preparedness programs,” the third annual “Ready or Not?” report said. A survey of 20 public health experts gave the federal efforts a D+ grade.
More funding to upgrade public health disaster infrastructures is needed, along with heightened efforts to ensure the funds are spent efficiently and effectively, the report said.
“There are no defined, standardized measures for bioterrorism preparedness from the [Centers for Disease Control] or regular reports of progress and vulnerabilities to the American people or Congress,” the report said.
The report recommended the Department of Health and Human Services integrate top-level management of its multiple bioterrorism and public-health programs.
“There needs to be a single, accountable official below the secretary of HHS with budget and policy authority for programs,” the report said.
On the state level, only Virginia, Delaware and South Carolina received high marks for preparedness. Only seven states and two cities have achieved “green” status for the National Strategic Stockpile, which under CDC guidelines require adequate supplies of vaccines and antidotes, the report noted.