Electronic Design

Inside The Industry: Homeland Security

Homeland Security Is Ripe For Innovation

From Sept. 11, 2001 through Dec. 31, 2003, the U.S. spent $450 billion in response to the terrorism threat. As best as we can determine, al Qaeda spent no more than $500,000 to plan and execute its attacks against the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Stated another way, we've responded tit-for-tat at the disproportionate rate of $1,000,000 for every dollar spent by al Qaeda.

Insurance claims stemming from the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks have cost over $150 billion. One might reasonably conclude that we're spending a historically high proportion of our gross domestic product on the war on terrorism. But that's not true. In fact, in 1953 we spent 14% of GDP on defense. Today, we're spending about 4%. And in the face of growing deficits and anti-tax sentiment, even that amount is getting our attention.

Realistically speaking, we will never whittle down that 1,000,000-to-1 disproportion to anything close to one-to-one. In their current manifestations, homeland-security systems and practices are inherently inefficient. Even paying minimum wage, the cost of tomorrow's anti-terror labor component will be unaffordable. A whole new method of procedure will be required, and that means innovation.

Today's systems are mostly designed to handle one threat. The metal detector we walk through at the airport is looking for metal, as in knives and guns. The X-ray machine that screens our hand luggage is looking for weapons too. Neither product can detect explosives, chemicals, biological agents, nuclear materials, and the like. The future lies in multithreat technologies and systems. The X-ray and gamma-ray systems of today will become obsolete, quickly, in the wake of new technologies that screen for multiple threats, in one pass, in a few seconds, with minimal human intervention.

I can predict, unequivocally, that all current anti-terror technology will be replaced. Anti-terror efforts will undergo their own industrial revolution. Fewer people will have to oversee much more detecting, with much higher degrees of reliability, or we won't be able to achieve our anti-terrorism goals.

TAGS: Defense
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