Beefing Up Border Security
Tips on selling advanced surveillance solutions to protect U.S. frontiers
- By John Merlino
- Sep 01, 2013
Here’s an interesting geography factoid: more than 7,000 miles of
U.S. land share borders with our Canadian and Mexican neighbors.
It takes hundreds of local, state and federal agencies, tribal
partners and neighboring governments, and thousands of border
patrol officers working in concert on a daily basis to effectively
protect this vast territory from traffickers of illegal weapons, drugs, money and
people. Legislation is now pending in Washington that ties immigration reform to
increasing border security measures in ways that achieve quantifiable results.
This opens a sizable opportunity for technology vendors and systems integrators
to propose advanced surveillance solutions that can become force-multipliers
to augment various border personnel.
To build a persuasive case for contemporary technology, however, you first
need to understand the current state of border protection in the United States
and the government’s roadmap to the future. A good source for that information
can be found in the written testimony of Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher of
the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office for a House Committee hearing
on Homeland Security. The document is titled “Measuring Border Security: U.S.
Border Patrol’s New Strategic Plan and the Path Forward.” (http://www.dhs.gov/
It’s apparent from this testimony that government agencies such as the Department
of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
are becoming increasingly more reliant on private industry to recommend and implement
effective solutions. Once you understand the framework of their requirements,
you’ll be able to provide integrated systems to meet their specialized needs.
Key Objectives for Border Security Strategies
The principal theme of the 2012 Strategic Plan is to use information, integration
and rapid response to meet threats. The plan references three key objectives concerning
border security today:
- Information gathered from reconnaissance, community engagement and technology
together provide situational awareness and intelligence to help under stand and assess the threats we face along our borders. Integrating this
intelligence will empower Border
Patrol leadership and front line
agents to get ahead of the threat, be
predictive and proactive.
- Leveraging partnerships with multiple
government organizations is
essential to the execution of border
security operations. Coordinated
and cooperative effort between
agencies will ensure that we bring
all available capabilities and tools to
bear in addressing threats.
- Through rapid response, capabilities
are deployed efficiently and effectively
to assess and mitigate the risks
In light of those objectives and
strategies, there two commonly recognized
border security environments:
- Land Points of Entry (LPOE) and
Checkpoints, and 2. Remote/Unmanned
Land Points of Entry and Checkpoints
Legitimate international commerce and
travel flow into the United States via
329 official LPOEs. For instance, on the
northern border, the Peace Bridge entry
point in Buffalo, NY, handles nearly 2.8
million border crosses by auto/truck
annually. At the newly renovated southern
border crossing at San Isidro near
San Diego, CA, more than 12 million
vehicles and 8 million people crossed
into the United States in 2011 alone.
Many different federal, state and local
law enforcement agencies typically
share jurisdiction and operation of
these busy, permanent inspection sites.
Over time, it has become increasingly
apparent that only through coordinated,
joint efforts and sharing of data
and systems can these agencies gain the
necessary real-time situational awareness
needed to safeguard the country’s
points of entry without negatively impacting
trade and tourism.
Serving both as a checkpoint and
operations center, LPOEs rely on a variety
of systems and sensors to provide critical information, such as radar, sonar, communications and airborne and fixed
video. When properly integrated, these systems afford commanders a complete
overview of checkpoint activity, as well as their relevant area of responsibility. In
tactical parlance this is referred to as C4ISR: Command, Control, Communications,
Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.
Legacy LPOE Systems versus Today’s Reality
In the past, many of these systems displayed their data independently and in a
format that couldn’t be shared with other applications. Today, the government is
requiring that these systems move to open standards to ensure interoperability.
What does this shift in standards mean to you?
- Any solution you propose must have the ability to be displayed on a common
operating platform (COP).
- Multiple inputs and sensors must communicate with multiple, non-proprietary
applications with shared databases.
- Your solution must reside on the local network. The government is mandating
that all system data be moved to the cloud or hosted remotely.
- Information assurance has become a central concern as new threats and vulnerabilities
emerge daily, so proposed systems must meet a moving array of
- Many government agencies publish their own approved products lists that meet
their stringent information assurance requirements, so vendor components
must meet each agency’s criteria.
Remote/Unmanned Northern and Southern Borders
Large expanses of land and water add another complexity to border security. In
the past, government agencies have deployed physical barriers, such as a fencing
and surveillance technologies, such as long-range thermal detection devices.
While these measures have been effective to some extent, the sheer expanses
have prevented them from providing the relevant situational awareness that border
protection staff need for actionable use and intelligence gathering.
In 2006, the government initiated a program called SBInet to secure U.S. borders
and augment rapid response by integrating interagency personnel, infrastructure
and technology. Though a laudable goal, the project never truly coalesced
primarily because its one-size-fits-all approach using integrated fixed tower-base
systems wasn’t applicable across all border environments. In 2011, DHS formally
cancelled the program.
Subsequently the government’s strategy changed from “developmental systems”
to “deployed and production-ready systems” on a sector by sector basis.
The goal now appears to focus on creating frontier force multipliers by strategically
deploying infrastructure along remote borders to house technical equipment
and staff and aggregate intelligence from multiple systems.
Legacy Remote Border Systems vs Today’s Reality
Previous solutions deployed in these remote environments were based on proprietary
equipment that was often hard to service and sustain. Like LPOEs, vast
expanses of unmanned borders are best served by a multi-sensor, open systems
So how does that impact the types of solutions and components you might
propose to deploy?
- Government agencies are driving requirements to furnish more commercial
off-the-shelf (COTs) products, requiring vendors to use a deployment-ready
approach to development.
- Data must be packaged and compressed in order to move it to other locations.
- Software applications and storage systems should be able to manage metadata
and share information across a broad spectrum of agencies.
- Your solution will need a mechanism for streaming data to the cloud or an
off-site hosting facility.
- Cyber threats and information assurance requirements will continue to drive
the need for more robust and secure hardware and software.
- The government values return on investment, so you will need to illustrate the
benefits of your solution in reducing manpower and streamlining operations.
Building a Roadmap for Success
As a security integrator or technology provider, the apparent complexity of a border
security project or program can be intimidating. After all, if Boeing with all its
immense resources failed to bring SBInet to fruition, how can smaller companies
hope to succeed?
Many would argue that the failure of SBInet was ultimately due to insufficient
procurement oversight. Rather than walking away from this opportunity, the key is
to establish common criteria with measurable performance metrics, clearly defined
goals and fixed milestones.
Success in this demanding space is based on a strategic approach and solid
planning. Below are a number of important steps to consider when participating
in a border security initiative—whatever your role.
Partnerships. The complexity of these solutions demands strategic partnerships
and cooperative development, so look for firms with robust partner programs and
standards-based development philosophies.
Cloud or hosted video solutions. The burden of maintenance and rising energy
costs are driving government customers to consolidate data centers and reduce
their overall IT footprint. In border deployments, a proposal may need to include
a cloud or hosted environment alternative and/or a migration path.
Open platform standards. For interagency operability, you need to deliver truly
open software and hardware such as open APIs, SDKs and COTs components and
Edge-based hardware solutions. The ability to provide data or metadata, storage
and analytics at the edge reduces server/processor cost and increases performance
and capabilities. Expanded FLASH technology and other edge storage capabilities
provide redundancy for shared data.
Cyber focus. Integrators and technology providers must keep current on government
information assurance requirements, certifications, and be listed on government
agencies’ approved products lists.
A Compelling Proposal for Specific Video Surveillance Technology
The very nature of border environments makes them ideal candidates for more
advanced network-based video surveillance technology. Here are some innovative
IP camera technologies you might consider including in your proposal:
- Wide dynamic range, enhanced lowlight color technologies and advanced
H.264 compression provide significantly better video quality and reduce muchneeded
- New HDTV-quality network cameras tactically deployed in tandem with thermal
technology are capable of detection and identification at a substantially
lower cost than their predecessors.
- Digital encoders provide a migration path from analog to IP. They can extend
the useful life of legacy cameras and increase their functionality by streaming
video data on the network.
Securing a Border Protection Contract
Succeeding in this dynamic and politically-charged space requires due diligence.
You and your partners need to be able to identify and target multiple governmental
agencies and understand their security challenges, certification processes
and procurement requirements. Propose solutions that align with
their mission and incorporate systems that not only provide critical
situational awareness, but also facilitate interagency sharing
of critical security intelligence.
This article originally appeared in the September 2013 issue of Security Today.