Electronic Design

Homeland Security: Seven Years Later

Though frustrating gaps still plague homeland security, advances such as detecting human heartbeats and foot traffic through underground tunnels help bring ever-stronger lines of defense.

Do you work for the only company in the world that can solve Tom Cellucci’s problem? If so, he’d like to hear from you. As chief commercialization officer of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science & Technology Directorate (S&T), he is responsible for identifying, evaluating, and commercializing technology that meets the operational requirements of the DHS and its end users.

During the IEEE International Conference on Technologies for Homeland Security held recently in Boston, Cellucci said that he receives several e-mails a day from companies telling him that they’re “the only one in the world” with a specific product or capability. In most cases, he said, they’re “solutions looking for a problem.” He suggested that these companies should show him how they’re different.

Dennis Treece, director of corporate security for the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport), has a similar story. He works closely with the DHS’s Transportation Security Agency (TSA) to help guide innovative technologies and programs. Treece said he’s constantly hearing from vendors who think they have the perfect product, but don’t understand the problem. “A technology that may have security benefits could also be hugely disruptive to our operations,” he said.

As a result, the United States is having trouble reaching many of its homeland security goals, such as checking all cargo containers for nuclear weapons before they leave foreign seaports and tracking the more than 330,000 privately owned vehicles that pass through U.S. borders every day, presenting a potential risk to national security.

This doesn’t mean the DHS S&T is without a shopping list. In fact, the directorate’s list is long and getting longer, according to a report on high-priority technology needs published recently by the DHS S&T.

Border security is a top priority, and the S&T directorate is shopping for technologies that support tunnel and rugged terrain detection. One development reported at the IEEE conference in Boston is a system that would be deployed at U.S. borders for the passive detection of clandestine tunnels.

So far, almost all of the tunnels along U.S. borders have been discovered through human intelligence assets rather than by technology. But the National Center for Physical Acoustics (NCPA) at the University of Mississippi hopes to change that with a detection technique it’s currently evaluating, a non-contact remote sensing technology that can detect and locate underground tunnels using a laser Doppler vibrometer (LDV).

The technique is based on sensing acoustic or seismic vibrations created in the tunnel. Several tests have been conducted, but the best results came from using a single-beam LDV and an accelerometer on the surface of the ground above a tunnel and then generating a seismic pulse in the tunnel using a hammer.

Unlike a geophone or an accelerometer, the LDV has several advantages over contact sensors for tunnel detection. It’s easy to deploy, and it’s highly mobile. It also covers a lot of ground.

Experiments by NCPA teams have successfully used triangulation and seismic imaging to detect vibrations within tunnels, although sensing greatly depends on the properties of the ground. The NCPA plans further development of this technique, using mainly multi-beam LDVs.

The DHS is also looking at how to improve its intrusion detection with wide-area surveillance radars for perimeters and borders. One possibility, also reported at the IEEE conference, is a new generation of ground surveillance radars.

By design, the radars can rapidly and continuously scan 360° and detect movement in any lighting and virtually any weather conditions. They also have an extremely low false-alarm rate and are easier to operate than earlier versions, especially in networks of many units.

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Two technologies being considered for fielding are pulse Doppler radar and frequency-modulated continuous wave, or FMCW (Fig. 1). Most pulse radars are derivatives of legacy military battlefield radar used for wide-area surveillance. A new generation of FMCW radar technology was specifically developed for wide-area surveillance, site security, and border protection.

FMCW operates on the imaging principle, breaking up the background into small segments, or resolution cells, and then measuring changes in the signal return from each cell to detect small targets. Modern FMCW radars can detect personnel moving at near zero speed and walking in any direction with respect to the radar, including tangentially.

Pulse Doppler radars use Doppler technology, which means that all moving objects will exhibit a frequency shift from the transmitted signal to the received signal. If an intruder is walking directly toward the radar at 3 mph, the radar will detect a frequency difference in the received signal and declare that a 3-mph target has been detected. If the target is walking at a 45° angle to the radar, the Doppler signal will be 3 mph times the cosine of the angle, or about 2.1 mph. However, pulse Doppler radars have an inherent flaw in covering wide areas. An intruder moving very slowly—at a speed somewhat below the velocity threshold—will not be detected.

Airport perimeter security is another issue. Many airports have ground surveillance radars that can scan an entire airport and operate in any weather. But they’re susceptible to nuisance alarms, such as deer. The next step, according to Ann S. Berry and David S. Mazel of Technology Service Corp. (TSC), is SPAN, or the Secure Perimeter Awareness Network. SPAN skips the usual build-it-from-scratch approach and calls for building some systems, testing and deploying them, and then adding systems, allowing security to evolve over a short time but in a way that uses the latest technology. TSC calls this distributed development.

Five systems have been installed at four airports (Seattle-Tacoma, JFK and LaGuardia in New York, and San Francisco). The system uses radar system sensors as the primary radar system for air traffic ground control of airplanes and vehicles. The radar operates in the Ku band (15.7 to 17.7 GHz).

With SPAN, a radar processor takes raw analog video signals of radar returns, processes them to reduce clutter and detect intruders, and sends data to a tracker. The tracker then processes the radar reports into consistent tracks that are sent to a security display processor for operator viewing.

A new innovation with SPAN in the air operations area being tested at LaGuardia Airport is a constellation of antennas that communicates with specially designed bio-RFID (radio-frequency identification) badges. The badges allow for communication between each of the antenna constellations with position data for the badges.

Coupling the radar system, which sees all targets, with the badges that track authorized personnel creates an identify friend-or-foe system. When the radar sees the target, the system tracks that target. By spatially subtracting authorized personnel from the radar tracks of all people, the system displays the unauthorized personnel in the air operations area. TSC believes the next step is to integrate Global Positioning System (GPS) data from vehicles that operate at La Guardia.

The DHS S&T report also indicates the DHS is still in the market for automated systems that screen for conventional explosives, liquids, weapons, and home explosives. The threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) is another critical area, with the DHS looking for technologies that provide non-intrusive means of screening vehicles for IEDs and tracking the origin of explosives and bomb components used in domestic IEDs. The DHS S&T is looking for anything that would help improve cargo security, such as the ability to detect or identify contraband or any threat materials, as well.

The DHS S&T also wants to fill holes in its cyber security capabilities. It’s specifically looking to improve its ability to model the effects of cyber attacks—in particular, measuring security and risk in IT infrastructure and better understanding Internet topography. Its recently updated shopping list now includes more robust transitional systems and security architectures. Technology aids that increase the accuracy and reduce the time and cost of detecting unauthorized inside threats are needed. And, the DHS S&T is exploring methods to improve security in wireless communications.

In fact, communications is one of the most critical elements in homeland-security planning and organization. Scalable Network Technologies believes that national defense is becoming network- centric and that “software virtual networks” can be built to evaluate new wireless networks components and technologies faster and cheaper than previously possible. In the fourth quarter of this year, the company will launch the EXata emulator system. It uses advanced parallel processing to digitally represent every layer in a wireless protocol stack.

Like many other communications specialists, Rajive Bagrodia, chief executive officer of Scalable Technologies and a professor at UCLA, says the next generation of homeland defense communications operations will be adaptive networks—software-based radios and transmission equipment that can adapt dynamically to conditions and seamlessly interoperate with disparate communications technologies.

On another front, Motorola and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) released the findings of a national survey, conducted earlier this year, that assessed how public safety organizations employ current communications technology as well as what future capabilities they would deploy to help improve emergency response. One key finding of the survey was strong demand for technology solutions that provide advanced situational awareness to first responders.

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EF Johnson Technologies has a $16 million order from the DHS that calls for the company to provide its submersible Project 25-compliant radios and accessories to the DHS. In addition, the company garnered a $10 million contract from the Yukon government for a Project 25-compliant IP25 infrastructure system along with its Project 25-compliant portable and mobile radios (Fig. 2). The Yukon has 43 radio sites throughout its 186,000-square-mile territory.

Conceived by APCO, Project 25 (P25) represents a set of standards that meet local requirements for emergency communications. The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) also published the TIA-102.BAGA standard, called the Project 25 Console Subsystem Interface Overview, to clarify key technical requirements and standards considerations supporting specifications of the Console Subsystem Interface.

The DHS recently approved a statewide communication interoperability plan for all 56 states and territories. It will link this to the recently approved National Emergency Communications Plan, which calls for a high level of response-level emergency communications in 90% of high-risk urban areas by 2010.

In May, the DHS awarded Verizon Business a contract to deploy and manage a secure global IP network linking thousands of DHS sites under a new Networx Universal task order. The contract is valued at $678.5 million over 10 years. Verizon will serve as primary service provider under the much-anticipated DHS OneNet program. AT&T will receive $292 million as a backup service provider.

Under the terms of the contract, Verizon Business will help the DHS’s 22 different agencies combine multiple separate wide-area networks (WANs) into one common and secure IP network. Furthermore, Verizon will employ Emergency Communications Services, a new service available to all government agencies under Networx Universal, to help the DHS better prepare for emergency response to manmade and natural disasters.

Earlier this year, a test program at three foreign ports known as the Secure Freight Initiative identified potential obstacles that might prevent security officials from scanning every U.S.-bound container by 2012, as mandated by Congress. Expert testimony since then suggests the U.S. might have trouble reaching its goal of checking all cargo containers for nuclear weapons before they leave foreign ports.

DHS agents are already checking for radioactive and nuclear material at many of the nation’s airports. Their efforts are part of a four-month, $4 million test to see whether DHS radio-detection equipment can sniff out depleted uranium and other radioactive material hidden on passenger planes. Specifically, the tests are designed to determine whether detectors now in use can find depleted uranium, cesium-137, cobalt-57, or barium-133 hidden on a commercial or private aircraft.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has called smuggling these kinds of potential weapons into the U.S. a “very real threat.” However, some analysts have said that this type of scanning is a waste of time because terrorists who have managed to get a nuclear weapon on board any aircraft could detonate it in midair.

U.S. ports are also now conducting radiation tests on about 98% of containers before they leave terminals. But the DHS and industry groups want to devise a system that will detect nuclear weapons or a dirty bomb in a cargo container before it arrives in the U.S.

Another new development, still being ironed out in the lab, is a portable “electronic nose” that can sense and identify chemical vapors by automated odor recognition. Pradeep U. Kurup, a civil engineering professor at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, says the electronic nose consists of an array of seven commercially available tin-oxide sensors.

Each sensor in an array has a different characteristic (coatings, operating temperatures, etc.) that produces a different electronic response in the form of voltage output for a particular odor. Exposing the sensor film to reacting vapors causes surface reactions with the oxygen ions, decreasing the sensor resistance, which is measured as an increase in voltage across a load resistor. Each sensor provides a different electrical response for a particular target vapor introduced into the sensing chamber.

The combined output from the sensor array forms a fingerprint, or signature, that’s unique for a particular odor. The odors are identified by an adaptive pattern recognition analysis of the fingerprints using artificial neural networks and other techniques. All of the data is collected on a notebook computer.

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According to Kurup, lab tests for the system showed success in recognizing various chemicals such as benzene, toluene, and gasoline. “Portable detection devices currently available are not as versatile as the dog’s nose in recognizing a broad spectrum of odors,” said Kurup. “However, they are not subject to fatigue.”

Video surveillance, one of the earliest and most effective “sensors” in the homeland security arsenal, is still a very important part of the DHS game plan. The DHS isn’t alone in this interest, as iSuppli Corp. projects the market for surveillance camera chips will hit $1.25 billion in 2011, more than double its $525 million in 2006.

Fabless semiconductor company Stream Processors Inc. hopes to drive the IP video surveillance market with a new family of DSPs, ranging from a high-performance solution capable of eight simultaneous channels of full standard-definition video encoding to single-chip IP cameras.

Texas Instruments is also working this market through its Video Security and Digital Imaging Business Unit (Fig. 3). Danny Petkevich, the unit’s business manager, said TI customers are looking for homeland security applications. TI is working closely with several OEMs and offshore outsource design manufacturers (ODMs). “We’re spending a lot of time matchmaking,” he said.

“There’s a big uptick in video systems equipment,” Petkevich added. “Globally, it’s the wild, wild West right now. People haven’t thought through all the things you can do with the technology now. We’re in the early stages of what we can do with the technology. Ten years from now, we’ll be having a different conversation.”

Unmanned aircraft, which have been very effective in gathering intelligence and even performing bombing missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, have also become popular in homeland security applications (Fig. 4). The DHS acquired at least six unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for patrols. It also has been working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on land border security with Canada.

The most-used UAV is a version of the military MQ9 Predator B equipped with special cameras and sensors. It can stay in the air for up to 30 hours. The DHS is also looking at a prototype drone for over-water testing in Florida for “look-down” capabilities as well as for interfacing with other aircraft and marine assets. If successful, UAVs with a maritime mission might be based on the Gulf Coast and in Puerto Rico and San Diego.

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