Electronic Design

Weapons Of Mass Protection

Homeland security looks to technology companies for innovative ways to combat potential terrorist strikes.

Uniformed security officers, bomb-sniffing dogs, and video cameras hanging off light poles may always be constant fixtures of homeland security. But the demand for new and innovative technologies has turned into big business—and it may grow larger in the wake of the London bombings and reported threats to the U.S.

In the short term, look for radiation-detecting pagers, RFID-based location tracking systems, unmanned robotic vehicles, and devices that sniff out electronic emissions. You also can expect a broader and much more sophisticated range of biometric devices, helicopters with heat-detecting cameras, long-range digital cameras, and electronic passports.

The difficult part is keeping track of the federal government's constantly changing priorities. In July, the U.S. Senate voted to adopt a $31.9 billion spending plan for homeland security in FY 2006. That's a few billion dollars more than the Administration's FY 2005 budget. However, the Senate earmarked only about $100 million for transit security for FY 2006. That's about $50 million less than in this year's budget, despite the London transit bombings in early July and concerns that U.S. transit systems may come under attack.

In his AAAS Report on Research and Development for FY 2006, senior analyst Kei Koizumi with the American Association for the Advancement of Science says the FY 2006 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) budget will require some tough choices in spending priorities.

The interagency Technical Support Working Group (TSWG) has earmarked seed funding to foster more technologically innovative projects around the country. A good percentage of this budget will go to heavyweight defense and aerospace contractors. Not only have these companies already developed technologies that can be adopted fairly easily to the homelandsecurity mission, they're also lobbying hard to get the work.

One of their better opportunities is unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which could be used for surveillance and assessing damage to buildings and other infrastructure. UAVs have been used very effectively in Iraq. Now, a joint NASA/DoD/Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) study will determine how to integrate them into U.S. commercial airspace.

Several major defense/aerospace firms long involved in developing and building UAVs are part of this program, called HALE ROA. Pentagon and NASA contractors also are working on robotic land vehicles that can sniff out explosives and perform other security-related tasks.

Billions of dollars have been distributed to states and local governments to help upgrade their security and first-response capabilities. High on their wish lists are portable radios that operate over a range of frequencies so law enforcement, fire, and other local and state emergency services can communicate effectively—not only among themselves, but with federal agencies such as the FBI and FEMA.


Last March, Accel-A-Tech launched a program to identify and accelerate the development of new technologies in the homeland-security sector that also have attractive commercial potential. "We are looking for entrepreneurs and people with deep technology backgrounds that have innovative ideas for homeland security, national defense, and first-responder products," says Michael Harden, the company's CEO.

Harden says that Accel-A-Tech has spent the past two years developing a business model specifically focused on homeland security. It's currently seeking additional funding to establish a Center for Innovation to house new companies and line up potential investors for new companies. One sector likely to benefit is the mobile market.

"There's no question that homeland security has driven the need for mobile technologies," says chief technology officer Andrew Girson of InHand Electronics, a provider of lowpower embedded system-level software and hardware technologies for OEMs.

One InHand customer, Ahura Safety Corp., specializes in portable optical solutions for homeland security, communications, and other applications. Its First Defender is a self-contained, handheld instrument for first responders that uses spectroscopy technology to identify unknown liquids and solids.

Another InHand customer, Rajant Corp., develops wireless broadband systems and components. It has incorporated InHand's Elf3 reference platform into its rapidly deployable line of wireless network products. One of these systems, BreadCrumb, uses up to 10 battery-operated, wirelessaccesspoint devices that can be spotted around an area to immediately establish a seamless Wi-Fi network for first responders.

Rosum Corp. saw a huge opportunity in homeland security-when it was working on its TV/GPS technology for tracking people and assets inside buildings and among outdoor locations where GPS signals alone may not provide sufficient accuracy or reliability. "GPS is challenged indoors," notes Jon Metzler, the company's director of business development.

Metzler says Rosum received a major if unexpected boost in December last year, when President Bush officially designated GPS as a critical national infrastructure and ordered the search for terrestrial complements to, or substitutions for, GPS in the event it becomes compromised.

The TV/GPS system works by triangulating the position of a mobile device based on the TV channels it receives from TV towers in the vicinity. The device measures analog and digital TV signals, computes their timing, and sends this information to a location server via wireless communications. The server then sends the computed location back to the device to track people or assets inside buildings or in an urban environment where GPS doesn't always operate reliably. "Just think of the TV tuner as a GPS antenna," says Metzler.

Rosum believes it can quickly and economically ramp up its system by using the country's existing 2800 TV transmitters and 4500 channels as part of its basic infrastructure. It has a product in alpha trial with a federal government customer and with a law enforcement agency in the San Francisco Bay area.

The company also is working with Trimble Navigation to produce a new version of that company's popular Trim Trac GPS unit with TV tracking capability. In addition to government applications, Rosum aims for commercial users, such as car and truck fleets. The company also is miniaturizing a version of its system to make it wearable for first responders.


Several universities have identified homeland security as an opportunity for research. The New Jersey Institute of Technology is working with terahertz radiation—called T-rays—to identify the crystal structure of different explosives. NJIT received about $1 million from the Pentagon to further this study.

Attila Technologies LLC, a venture that came out of the Stevens Institute of Technology, is targeting homeland-securityapplications with continuous broadband, on-demand communications devices and services that operate even in saturated airways. Testing is under way to demonstrate the system's cognitive radio capabilities.

"Attila's approach solves the two most important problems faced by first responders in a disaster, as stated by the Department of Homeland Security—continuous communications and interoperability," says Helena Wisniewski, vice president of Stevens' Office of Institute Technology Initiatives. "Therefore, Attiila's initial market will be first responders."

The U.S. Marines recruited Bill Dunn, a Kansas State University professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering, to improve bomb detection without having to get close to suspicious containers such as knapsacks, briefcases, and even cars that may conceal explosives. Dunn began working on this project in November 2004 when the death toll in the Iraqi war continued to mount due to car and suicide bombings by insurgents, though Dunn says the recent bombings in London have added some urgency to the project.

Dunn's device will use pulses of gamma and neutron radiation that go into the target. What's inside largely determines what comes back. "We know what signals come back when we interrogate an object containing an explosive substance. Now we're trying to find out the best way to analyze the data to make sure we're correct that there are explosives on board," he says.

Particularly challenging is the physical inspection of shipping containers. Only about 6% of these huge cargo containers are physically inspected when they reach the U.S.

Defense contractor L-3 Communications Holdings is developing a system that uses sensors inside a container to gather data on its contents. This "smart box" could be connected to a communications system to warn authorities of any findings. The DHS has tested a number of prototypes over the past several months, and it may award a contract in six to eight months. A more economic approach under consideration would check containers at U.S. ports via x-ray machines and radiation monitors.

Transportation security is another hot button. Lucent Technologies is developing systems to transmit high-quality video using laser technology that can beam high-definition images— such as video of a person at an airport checkpoint—over distances of more than 600 miles. Lucent expects it to be operational sometime next year.

Bell Labs proposed network security systems that recognize and analyze emerging threats. Unisys Corp. and Electronic Data Systems also have DHS contracts to develop pilot programs for security fast lanes for frequent travelers in five airports. The contracts total $3.78 million.

Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey now uses a "puffer" device. Developed by Smiths Detection, it blasts air at travelers and then analyzes the puffs within seconds for traces of explosives. By year's end, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) expects to have close to 140 of these explosive detection units at the 40 largest airports in the U.S.

Smiths Detection also is working with the TSA, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Golden Gate Ferry to test advanced explosives-detection technology as part of the Secure Automated Inspection Lanes (SAIL) project. SAIL uses document scanners and other explosives-detection hardware to screen passengers.

Most major cities have thousands of video cameras around busy streets and throughout their rail systems. In fact, all of Chicago's 2000 buses are equipped with cameras. These cities also plan to add more, not only because they have proven to be a strong investigation tool, but also because they're reliable and relatively inexpensive to acquire and operate. New software has increased video surveillance efficiency, scaling back human intervention and eliminating costs.

According to Soumilya Banerjee, a senior research analyst with market researchers Frost & Sullivan, "Pre-set algorithms and easy user-defined policies reduce the requirement of security personnel in the monitoring station, allowing them to either be relocated on site, outside the monitoring station, or dispensed with entirely, depending on the type of premise under surveillance."

Chips and faster processing power also provide opportunities for video-surveillance programs that analyze video content in real time. Frost & Sullivan expects the global video-surveillance software market to experience a compound annual growth rate of 23.4% from 2004 to 2011, reaching $670.7 million. Expansion of network-based systems, including local-area networks, wide-area networks, and the Internet, will foster some of this growth.


Protecting international borders is another major concern, and US-VISIT—U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology—is leading the charge. This program's security measures collect biometric and biographic information from visitors at U.S. visa-issuing posts around the world and upon their U.S. entrance and departure.

Under US-VISIT, the DHS has tested RF-identification (RFID) technology that would more efficiently record the entries and exits of visitors, with the standard arrival and departure record (known as an I-94) issued at any U.S. land border. Five U.S. land borders started testing the RFID technology in early August and will continue to do so through the early summer of 2006.

Testing will evaluate this equipment's ability to read information from RFID tags embedded in Customs and Border Protection Forms I-94A. The RFID tags only contain unique serial numbers, and only U.S. government officials may link the tag number to the visitors' biographic and biometric record.

DHS officials expect RFID technology-to enhance US-VISIT's capacity to match visitors' entries to exits without increasing processing time at U.S. borders. US-VISIT, which has already processed more than 21 million people, is credited with stopping nearly 500 criminals and visa violators.

Still, many in Congress aren't satisfied, so they continue to pressure the Administration and DHS to do more to protect U.S. borders. Part of their concern is the cost. US-VISIT spent $100 million in FY 2004 and FY 2005 to plan, design, and implement the technology that's currently being tested.


The TSWG has several subgroups. The Surveillance, Collection, and Operations Support Group is responsible for traditional and analytical surveillance; command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR); and information operations support. Other TSWG subgroups include explosives detection, physical security, and infrastructure protection.

Most DHS R&D programs are under the agency's Directorate of Science and Technology (S&T). Most S&T funds will go to federal laboratories or federally funded R&D centers (FFRDCs), as as government-owned, contractor-operated laboratories. In the past year, DHS set up its own FFRDC, formed the new Homeland Security Institute, and consolidated R&D activities at laboratories inherited from other departments.

The DHS has been the focal point homeland-security R&D, with the emphasis on developing and acquiring new high-tech system solutions to track and monitor global terrorist threats. Koizumi says most federal homelandsecurity R&D operates outside the Bioterrorism R&D programs at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) account for the largest part of federal homeland-security R&D spending.

Other R&D directorates and programs exist, but most of the industry's interests are centered in the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA). Modeled after Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), HSARPA awards grants for basic and applied research that promotes revolutionary changes in homeland-security technologies, develops and tests homeland technologies, and accelerates and prototypes the development of technologies to prepare them for deployment. HSARPA also manages DHS's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

With all of its reliance on information technology, you'd think the DHS had a fail-safe setup in tow. Hurricane Katrina indicated otherwise. Also, this past June, the organization caught a lot of political heat when an internal audit suggested that computer systems at 19 department sites serving the TSA and other homeland-security-related agencies had no functioning backups or that their backup systems were insufficient to handle major disasters.

Specifically, backups were lacking for networks that support airline passenger screening and the inspection of goods moving across borders. The report also said that the DHS did not implement an agency-wide program to coordinate or upgrade its disaster recovery capability for its critical computer systems.


There has been no shortage of homeland-security-related trade shows, seminars, and webinars, some of which focus on just one segment National Institute of Justice Annual Technology Conference is scheduled for October 31 through November 2 in San Diego. Co-sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, it will target technology and training tools currently available and those being developed for first responders.

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