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 in minutes.

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.

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