Tracing Terrorism's Footsteps

GPS services becoming more affordable, available to the consumer

THE power of GPS technology to aid in security and terrorist prevention has grown alongside consumer applications. When location technology was once only used to manage assets, its increased intelligence has now gained recognition in the homeland security sector. Decreasing costs and improved efficiency have led to a widespread deployment of this ever-growing technology.

The Beginnings of GPS
The growth of GPS use can be traced across a series of demarcating events -- the first Gulf War, in which precision-guided weapons were first broadly introduced to the general public and the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) Wireless E9-1-1 Act, which mandated the adoption of location technology into cellular handsets to enable the geolocation of 9-1-1 calls. Looking ahead, Europe's Galileo satellite plans loom on the horizon, as do improved signals in the GPS constellation. Today, GPS-based services are becoming more available and more affordable to the average consumer.

This overall trend has resulted in a multitude of commercial GPS-based location devices and services, from fleet management to asset tracking, to consumer navigation handhelds. The global fleet management market alone is predicted to reach nearly $6 billion by 2007.

GPS also is used to transmit reliable time and frequency to time-sensitive assets, such as cellular towers. For example, CDMA cellular networks, such as Sprint or Verizon, are synchronized to GPS. Financial services use GPS to synchronize encrypted networks. Arguably, this application of GPS is as important as its use in geolocation and navigation.

Problems With GPS
GPS dependence carries two risks:

  • It may be unavailable or unreliable in key indoor and urban environments.

  • It may be disrupted or even spoofed during an attack or terrorist incident.

The high frequency, low power, and vertical orientation of GPS make it vulnerable indoors and in urban canyons and areas of dense population -- areas that are thought to be most at risk of terrorist attack.

For mobile, high-risk or high-value assets, first responders or offenders under monitoring, real-time monitoring capabilities are a known requirement. A criminal with a GPS bracelet could, for example, enter Washington, D.C.'s Union Station, head out the back to its covered parking lot, and then drive out by vehicle. While in the station and the car, the criminal's monitoring device would never have line of sight to the sky. The GPS device would most likely be dark, unable to get a signal, and the last available location would still show him in front of Union Station.

GPS also is susceptible to manmade interference. GPS jammers are inexpensive, and how-to manuals are available on the Internet. Prior to the second Gulf War, it was feared that GPS jammers would be used to hamper the use of precision-guided munitions. GPS jammers themselves can be targeted based on their emitted signal, but they retain the power to disrupt key or sensitive operations. A GPS jammer can allegedly block GPS receipt for an area of up to 120 miles.

These vulnerabilities were summarized in 2001 in the Volpe report prepared for the Department of Transportation, and by a presidential decision directive issued in December 2004, which specifically noted that growing dependence on GPS services left both military and commercial services vulnerable to the disruption. DARPA and others have referred to this as an "asymmetric dependency," meaning that our dependence on GPS is higher than that of U.S. enemies. In turn, interruption of GPS' availability would, in essence, hurt the United States more than it would hurt its enemies.

The question then is: What other options are available?

TV-GPS is one such alternative. The system passively uses unmodified commercial broadcast TV signals for position location. The system can be thought of as a GPS on the ground. Much as the GPS is already on and available for positioning, so too are TV signals, though for the purpose of broadcast, not positioning. In general, broadcast transmitters are well-correlated with urban population centers; where most assets of value, human or material, reside.

TV signals are distributed and robust to jamming. Both VHF and UHF signals can be used. Positioning devices do not need line-of-sight to the sky, meaning that devices can be placed in trucks or below care to track vehicles These uses can save time and minimize risk for public safety officials. Such devices are currently being tested in the field, and in positioning radio systems for urban warfare (overseas) or domestic homeland security applications. Future applications include offender monitoring systems that require an always-on positioning capability and asset tracking systems where a specific pallet is tracked.

TV is not perfect in its coverage and it is best used in urban centers. TV combined with other signals, such as highly-sensitive GPS, provide broader coverage. Self-deployed, TV-like beacons are a second alternative, either domestically or in overseas environments where ambient TV signal may be scarce.

A recent presidential directive designated GPS as a critical national infrastructure and ordered the search for terrestrial complements to, or substitutes for GPS in the event that it should be compromised.

FEMA is working with two Washington, D.C.-area broadcast stations to send rich emergency data over the air to devices with TV receivers. FEMA has decided that improving the emergency broadcast system is one of its major goals.

As analog TV broadcasts go off the air with the introduction of digital TV (scheduled for 2009), 24 MHz of spectrum in the 700-MHz band will be set aside for public safety applications, addressing the issues associated with communications interoperability. TV signals locked to robust clocks also can be used to transmit time to time-sensitive assets.

Homeland Security Gets Nearly Half of Fiscal 2007 Federal IT Dollars

RESTON, Va. -- The president's Fiscal 2007 budget released by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will favor information technology requests in support of the war on terror and homeland security, according to a report released by INPUT. The Department of Homeland Security's IT budget increase is the most significant with an increase of 21 percent to more than $4.4 billion. The president's budget adds $772 million to the Department of Homeland Security fiscal 2007 budget, which represents 44 percent of the new money added to federal IT spending overall. Federal agencies plan to spend $64.3 billion on IT in Fiscal 2007, which represents a 3-percent increase over the fiscal 2006 budget.

"The message delivered by OMB is that performance and measurement will play critical roles in the review and approval of budgeted spending, especially the close review of agency-by-agency progress reports on meeting administration goals for managing IT projects and developing effective business cases," said James Krouse, acting director, public sector market analysis for INPUT.

Cybersecurity also has been elevated as a priority area with a budget increase to $5.2 billion.

Other Technologies
The past decade has witnessed rapid growth in new forms of location technology used in a number of applications. Defined-area technologies, such as RFID, boost asset deployment efficiency. WiFi-based systems provide another alternative, though with less robust signals that may be more useful for consumer applications than public safety. Cellular systems are being used to help GSM carriers in the United States, such as Cingular or T-Mobile, meet their FCC E9-1-1 obligations. Cellular systems also are being used for stolen car recovery services, such as those provided by Boomerang in Canada.

While decidedly antiquatted, LORAN is another robust signal of opportunity. LORAN is coarse in positioning accuracy, and its accuracy indoors also suffers. However, it is based on 29 transmitters that are highly robust, it has global footprint, and it can be used as a reliable time source for fixed applications. This makes it an interesting fallback for applications that are time-sensitive.

The location technology sector is constantly changing. In the public safety sector, always-on, always-accurate indoor/outdoor positioning is an achievement that's constantly setting the bar. Each day brings us closer to achieving that goal.

Take an RFID Reality Check

While the costs of RFID technology are declining dramatically, many companies that have embarked on the investment in RFID are still straddled with inadequate IT infrastructure, face major adoption challenges and haven't focused on achieving meaningful benefits. How can companies mitigate the hidden costs of RFID and ensure that RFID investments are well spent? DiamondCluster, a global management consulting firm, recommends that regardless of whether a company is just starting internal discussions about RFID or are already knee deep in an implementation, there are five actions every company should take.

  • Reaffirm your strategy. Will rapid RFID adoption define the winners and losers in your industry? Is it part of the cost of doing business with your partners or customers? Are you looking for huge productivity gains, improved processes or greater transaction accuracy? In most cases, small-scale implementations followed by rigorous cost/benefit analysis is more effective than a "big-bang" strategy. Rationalizing the investment cycle is a must.
  • Reassess the readiness of your IT infrastructure. Connectivity and infrastructure costs can account for more than 50 percent of an RFID investment. That financial burden of building out the existing infrastructure can undercut any potential savings RFID might ultimately provide. The CIO, with the CEO's executive sponsorship, should take the responsibility for explaining how and why IT infrastructure improvements will support the company's RFID strategy by tying those investments to specific business processes.
  • Get the business benefits nailed down. A key benefit of RFID today is to reduce errors that invariably occur at any point in the supply chain, where human intervention is required. In general, the business case will improve as more opportunities to improve error-prone processes are identified as candidates for RFID applications. For example, benefits to consumer packaged goods companies might include greater supply chain integrity, product quality control, including expiration date and recall lot control and improved customer insights for marketing purposes.
  • Marshall executive sponsorship. You'll need senior-level support inside your organization -- and among stakeholders across your value chain to be successful. Even Wal-Mart, whose clout with suppliers is legendary, has been challenged in influencing its entire supplier base to place RFID tags on cases and pallets due to the questions surrounding the return on investment assumptions.
  • Look to improve processes. Companies that are being compelled by influential partners to adopt RFID should view it as an opportunity to make long overdue process improvements than can increase competitiveness. RFID leaders, in turn, can exert influence on their value chain partners to reengineer cumbersome processes that are costing both parties time and money. In any case, overlaying RFID on outmoded, inefficient processes is a case of good money after bad.
  • About the Author

    Jon Metzler is business development director for Rosum Corp.


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