The Technology Role
Today’s solutions will play an increasing, every-present role on the border
While the political discussions that focus on
how to secure America’s borders rage on
without a clear resolution regarding what
or how policies and procedures could
change, one element of the discussion remains
clear and present–that technology must and will play an
ever more significant role at the U.S. border.
Managing the Border
The job of managing daily border crossings includes screening
vehicles, pedestrian traffic and fleets of trucks for contraband
like cash, weapons and drugs at a speed that protects U.S. citizens
as well as the half a trillion dollars in annual trade between
the United States and Mexico. Customs and Border Protection
(CBP) screens between half a million and a million pedestrians
and 400,000 vehicles through 330 ports of entry across 2,000
miles every day.
It is a daunting task where the stakes are high with an average
of 130 Americans daily falling prey to an opioid epidemic that is
now being fed by synthetic opioids like fentanyl that can be fatal
in very small doses. CBP officers and law enforcement officers
risk their lives and risk exposure to these substances daily in order
to perform their jobs. But new technologies and new developments
in technology could change all of that.
Technology at the border is good news for the good guys and
bad news for the bad guys.
Innovations in security technology are coming faster and
faster, integrating capabilities that were developed for other environments
including consumer products–facial recognition technology
for instance has clear application for security. But what
if it were possible to develop parallel technologies like vehicle
recognition software that does not rely on license plates or VIN
numbers to identify specific vehicles?
What if certain materials that are commonly used to disguise
contraband or fool current technology could be identified and the
mere presence of that material in a vehicle could alert officers to
a problem? What if the 400,000 vehicles that need to be screened
every day could go through a portal that could detect those items
of concern and accurately clear other vehicles?
And what if all of those factors could be identified across the
330 points of entry, forming an integrated, multi-layered technology
net that could make it easier and faster for everyone to cross
the border and preserve or accelerate the “speed of commerce” as
it is sometimes called? That would be good news for people who
are legitimately crossing the border and bad news for those with
nefarious purposes. And that is what is happening.
The Future is Now
Security solutions that are capable of functioning on their own
or as part of a multi-layered solution are already in use, and additional
advancements are in development. New innovations that
shrink and ruggedize technology that once was only available in
huge machines can now be put into handheld devices that are
ultra-portable, effective and safe, like X-ray screening tools that
let officers see into sealed areas of vehicles. Handheld-screening
tools have already been deployed and are currently in use by law
enforcement officials throughout the country and at the southern
border. Searches, which traditionally require officials to manually
dismantle a vehicle over the course of hours, can now be completed
Similar technology found in handheld x-ray screening tools
is now being scaled up into full, drive-though vehicle portal solutions
that will help officers find more contraband like this, allowing
officials to remove inventory and dollars from the illegal
drug-trafficking industry and even make human trafficking much
more difficult. The objective of these portal systems is 100 percent
inspection. Similar to how today’s airport checkpoint scans
all carry-on baggage, drive-through portals at the border will effectively
scan all passenger and commercial vehicles for increased
security and efficiency. Demonstrations for these portal solutions
will be starting in the coming months to select the optimal-security
solutions for a decade (plus) of investment.
As an industry, the expectation is that congressional funding
mechanisms will recognize the benefits of putting dollars toward
further development of solutions that can be part of a multi-layered
system, solutions that use open-source architecture (so they
can learn to talk to each other), solutions that utilize AI and machine
learning to rapidly analyze and integrate massive amounts
of data, and set new standards in border security technology.
The Role of Small Business and Innovation
Security technology is big business, and research and development
does not come without cost. However, research and development
(R&D) is the key factor in getting real innovation
to the marketplace. While companies in the United States now
outsource so much of manufacturing, innovation is still one of
our most significant domestic products and one of our most important
exports with small businesses accounting for significant
advances in industries including homeland security technology.
Engineering (rather than financial engineering) focuses on developing
new solutions to old problems that change the landscape of
the security industry every year.
While consumer technologies like Ring doorbells, smart thermostats
and Alexa-enabled household devices come into homes
and get smarter and gain new functions; facial-recognition technology
matched with vehicle-recognition technology, handheld Xray
technology that can see through steel and other materials in
vehicles, and full drive-through vehicle portals
are coming to the security industry. This level of
innovation will form that protective-technology
net that can catch the bad actors while letting
everyone else be about their business.
This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Security Today.