Dems Seek Interoperable Technology Strategy for Border Security
Utilizing new and developing technology is the key to securing U.S. borders, witnesses told the U.S. House Committee on Science today. And the work of the Science & Technology Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is central to identifying and combining those technologies into an effective border security system.
"Technology is just as important to securing our borders as muscle and manpower," stated Science Committee Ranking Member Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN). "With a long border that’s difficult to protect, the U.S. Border Patrol will be relying on work supported by the DHS S&T Directorate to provide the tools they need to do their job effectively."
Currently, the Border Patrol is charged with securing roughly 7,500 miles of U.S. border – much of it in remote and rugged terrain – with a force of only 12,000 border patrol agents.
Technology exists that could substantially assist agents in detecting and apprehending intruders crossing our border. Current research is working to create a virtual fence using sensors and imaging techniques linked in an information network, which would provide the relatively small number of agents in the field with a tool to locate and track intruders.
"We need to do a better job of securing our borders, plugging the many holes along the border that are often in areas of remote and rugged terrain. Technology can help us do this but we must be committed to bringing that technology from research to reality," said Rep. David Wu (D-OR), Ranking Member of the Environment, Technology & Standards Subcommittee.
The S&T Directorate spearheads R&D activities at DHS to adapt technologies that have promise for creating this virtual fence.
For example, unattended ground sensors have been under development for some time by the Department of Defense. A range of acoustic, seismic, magnetic, and thermal sensors can detect vehicles and people. Seismic sensors exist, for instance, that can detect a person walking at more than 50 yards from the sensor. These sensors are low cost, small and easily concealed, and have long battery life.
Likewise, visual and infrared cameras are becoming smaller and cheaper to deploy. Imagery can be obtained by fixed cameras and by cameras or radar mounted on unmanned aircraft – UAVs. UAVs, developed for military use, have been demonstrated for use in border areas. They are excellent platforms for imaging devices and have long endurance (30 to 50 hours).
"As we learned from the hearing, the key to quickly creating an effective border security system is to interconnect existing sensors and surveillance technologies in a smart network," added Rep. Gordon. "Whether protecting our borders from illegal immigration, terrorism or drug trade, technology properly applied will provide the needed weapons. The S&T Directorate’s role in this work cannot be understated."