Over the Top
Technology detects and deters terrorists through preemptive search
- By Bob Levine
- Sep 21, 2007
GOVERNMENT and law enforcement agencies are developing tactics and techniques to prevent, protect against and respond to terrorist attacks on local and national levels.
One of the most noticeable tactics is the preemptive search. The preemptive search is intended to detect and deter terrorist attacks, as well as criminal acts involving illegal contraband, concealed weapons or other harmful agents.
Under elevated threat levels, the number and complexity of necessary searches has increased. Law enforcement and other security agencies have had to find new tools and develop new search techniques in order to keep pace with resource demands. Modern technology, in large part, has made it possible for law enforcement and security personnel to respond to new search and security sweep scenarios at entry points, on roads and rails, at airports and at many other locations.
In simpler times, the unaided eye of a security agent or officer was all that was needed to assess and deter threat. Many of the threats in vehicles are hidden from view and can only be indicated to the inspector by signs of vehicle tampering. In the past, low-tech tools, including rolling mirrors with flashlights, were employed to aide in a search. These devices allowed inspectors to see areas that are hard to access, such as underneath a vehicle. The problem with these tools is that reflected images from mirrors seldom have the proper lighting conditions, magnification factor or form factor required, which increases the probability of missing a subtle, suspicious visual detail.
Right for the Job
The search and sweep equipment now used by many security organizations sees better than the human eye and does other tasks that make the process more accurate, faster and safer.
New equipment, such as a portable video system, enables personnel to conduct a greater number of searches more thoroughly. Systems that feature a modular design are of maximum benefit and are described as tool sets. These typically contain an array of interchangeable video inspection components that can be configured into different search tools. Each search tool is optimized to perform a search task in a specific condition or environment. The Zistos WA-VSWD14 vehicle search system falls into that category. The system contains all of the necessary video tools to search a passenger or commercial vehicle in one transported case.
Typically, these systems consist of two main components. The first component is a body-worn video display monitor used by the inspector. The second component can be a specialty video camera, such as high-reaching telescoping pole camera, rolling under to look into void spaces in and around the vehicle. With hands free to operate the camera, the inspector monitors the image displayed on the screen. Non-video, optical devices such as fiberscopes can be included when gas tank inspections are required.
Each section of the vehicle presents a different type of inspection challenge. No single tool can serve every purpose, so some of these video systems are modular in design and can be transformed into several tools by configuring the components in different ways. This way, one portable kit adapts for many different inspection uses, similar to the way a vacuum cleaner may be altered with different types of hoses, rods and cleaning heads for different jobs.
The different attachments in the portable video systems allow the inspector to see into spaces that may be impractical or impossible to examine with the naked eye. New video technology makes cargo compartments, undercarriage, roof and every part of the truck easy to inspect for even the most subtle signs of vehicle tampering or concealment.
Step by Step
The vehicle search process may take place as part of a random selection—if a vehicle fits a particular profile, such as a tanker or rental truck traveling into a secure area; or if it arouses suspicion in some other way. It is unlikely that signs of criminal intent would be overt or easily observable at a glance. It is more probable that efforts will have been made to conceal evidence of unlawful or terrorist activities.
Searchers identify various zones or sections of a vehicle (vehicle top, cabin and cargo areas, and under-vehicle) and proceed to thoroughly search each for contraband, IEDs or signs of tampering.
The search of a suspect vehicle begins with a preliminary walk around the vehicle to look for any visible signs of threat beyond that which may have flagged attention in the first place. Next, a zone-by-zone detailed search is performed using a portable video system.
The inspector uses a self-illuminating camera mounted onto a pole to scan small spaces, such as the area around the engine and firewall. This same camera can be used to search the driver/passenger areas, underneath seats, behind the dashboard, the wheel wells, bumper voids and in any storage compartments.
To transform the video system into an under-vehicle inspection tool, the user simply changes the configuration of the unit. A self-illuminating camera is typically mounted to an under-vehicle inspection trolley on wheels. The trolley’s pole is linked to the video display unit. The system easily rolls underneath the vehicle’s undercarriage and provides a high-resolution image of hard-to-access areas in daytime or at night.
The inspector now can scan the entire vehicle underbody in search of abnormal items or signs of tampering. As before, proper illumination, image magnification and the ability to finely control the camera’s position really make visual image searching of critical areas much more effective than methods used in the past.
The next zone to be searched is the cargo area. Transported goods on commercial vehicles can be used as a shield to hide contraband, explosives or unauthorized/illegal passengers. The cargo area must be examined for anything suspicious. It’s not possible to inspect beyond the outermost layer of cargo without unloading the truck’s contents or crawling the load. By switching the trolley camera to a long telescoping pole camera, the inaccessible corners of the cargo area can be examined for anything suspicious.
Finally, a search of the vehicle top is required to complete the search. The tops of vehicles generally do not offer inconspicuous hiding places; however, height itself becomes an obstacle to inspection that perpetrators can use to their advantage. A thorough vehicle search includes the roof surface, where contraband, IEDs and even people can be concealed.
The versatility of this gear, which easily converts from one tool to another is key to its usefulness to personnel on site or out in the field. With this type of equipment, inspectors remain standing throughout the search and do not have to crawl under the vehicle. It also allows inspectors to keep an eye on the environment and take preemptive action in the event of an aggressive act by a driver or another vehicle veering into the inspection lane.
One other very important feature of the portable video system is that the image captured and displayed on the inspector’s chest-mounted display unit also can be shared with someone 10 feet away, 100 yards away or halfway around the world via the Internet.
Dollars Make Sense
Counterterrorism and security budgets have increased since 2001, but the demands for security have escalated at a faster rate. Financial considerations have driven the development and use of better equipment and more efficient techniques. The cost of even sophisticated high-performance portable video equipment is relatively low. When the cost-to-benefit ratio of adaptable, multi-use tools is analyzed, they prove their worth with increased number of searches that are more accurate, more efficient, safer and in compliance with homeland security objectives.
As criminals and terrorists continue to become more sophisticated, so too must the tools and methods used to detect and deter them. Cost-effective, portable video systems demonstrate how technology can help defend us in times of elevated threat levels by keeping us one step ahead.