Electronic Design

What's Hot Today: Homeland Security

Technologies Vie For A Share Of The Expanding Homeland Security Budget

Technology development and new-product cycles are always driven by the prospect of sustained or increasing demand, and homeland security is no exception. Each year since 2002, the U.S. government's budget for homeland security has escalated, and the one submitted for 2005 is no different.

According to the official numbers, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is asking for $40.2 billion for 2005, a 10% jump over 2004, and nearly 30% higher than 2003. The question, though, is how the funds will be allocated. How much will end up financing new research, existing R&D, and near-term product development?

Documents provided by the DHS and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) don't make it easy, offering up little detail. Unlike the Pentagon, which reveals, say, how money is allocated to each aircraft type, the DHS and OMB only supply categorical information. We're left to try to deduce the underlying line items.

Yet there are clues in how the funding is proportioned. About a fifth is earmarked for border security. Couple that with the funding for aviation security, and about 30% of the budget is aimed at keeping dangerous items and people from entering the U.S. Consequently, even with a trickle-down scenario, billions will ultimately be spent on technologies and products meant to accomplish these ends.

But unlike the commercial market, where businesses typically transact with other businesses, this market will involve a lot of government transactions with the attendant longer sales cycles and bureaucratic processes. However, one thing has changed. Huge contractors that used to go solo when dealing with government customers now must ally with or acquire agile startups that generate the latest technology innovations to meet specifications. Ultimately, this market will resemble the early biotechnology market, where startups developed new technologies and partnered with the established pharmaceutical houses to deal with Food and Drug Administration requirements, as well as with marketing and sales.

In fact, this is already happening. A small Canadian company, Exploranium, had a technology for radiological detection in scrap metal. Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) recently acquired Exploranium, and now the technology is being incorporated into its mobile Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System (VACIS). A truck-mounted, non-intrusive gamma-ray imaging system, VACIS produces radiographic images used to evaluate the contents of trucks, containers, cargo, and passenger vehicles. The Exploranium technology adds radiological detection to the mix.

More than a dozen companies—including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon—are as big or bigger than SAIC, and they have the infrastructure and experience for dealing with government programs. In addition, many smaller companies currently research and develop technologies and products related to homeland security.

For example, SafeView Inc. was established in 2002 to commercialize a patented holographic process (developed by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory). Using a non-ionizing process based on active millimeter-wave technology, SafeView's process enables users to clearly see objects made of metal, plastic, ceramic, and other materials hidden among clothing in luggage.

Another example of symbiosis is Analogic's work with Sanders Design International to forge an effective countermeasure system for commercial airliners that would help protect them from attack by shoulder-fired, heat-seeking missiles. Analogic also is working with Lockheed Martin on detection devices for passenger carryon luggage scrutiny.

Prior to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, container and vehicle screening was meant to thwart smuggling and catch customs evaders. From 1993 through 2001, the annual budget for this was below $60 million. That outlay financed the screening of fewer than 2% of the 6 million containers moving through U.S. ports each year. With 98% of containers essentially unchecked, opportunities for terrorist mayhem are wide open. Needless to say, the sampling percentage must rise to nearly 100%, prompting funding numbers of $750 million by 2006, and in excess of $1.4 billion in 2010, according to the Homeland Security Research Corp.

Also before Sept. 11, 2001, checked airline baggage went virtually unexamined. Projections from the HSRC show that the typical $200 million to $250 million expended on baggage handling will grow to $1.25 billion by 2006 and $3.4 billion by 2010.

The real challenge isn't the capacity to screen a much higher percentage of cargo containers and checked baggage. Rather, it's doing it quickly and affordably. As a result, most contemporary systems, built for pre-9/11 screening volumes, are woefully unprepared to deal with those of post-9/11. What's the solution? Rather than build more systems, new ones based on new technologies are the key. These new systems should be able to reduce human handling and human error, speed up the screening process, achieve zero false negatives, and lower the per-screen costs from $2 to $5 to less than 25 cents.

Basic and applied research is ongoing in sensor and sensor-related technologies. Need is pushing the envelope in millimeter-wave and terahertz technologies for human-body screening and in nuclear-quadruple-resonance (NQR) technology (similar in concept to medical MRI), which can be used to identify over 10,000 biochemical compounds. The race is on to fill immediate security gaps with conventional systems, such as X-ray and gamma types, while simultaneously marrying new sensing technologies to advanced processors via high-speed/high-resolution analog-to-digital conversion.

The answer, says Johnathan Tal, CEO of HSRC, is multithreat, fused-technology systems. Today, the typical airline screening process involves passengers passing their carryon luggage through an X-ray screener that looks for dense objects, and then the passenger walks through a metal detector. Neither checks for explosives. To do that, a passenger is singled out, the luggage swabbed, and the swab analyzed by a third system.

"In the future," says Tal, "passengers and their hand luggage will go through a single portal that screens for everything the current three systems check and also looks for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) threats." The whole process will take seconds, require far fewer security personnel, and cost well under a dollar per passenger. Similar fused-technology systems will also be used for vehicle and cargo checking. In addition, "smart" containers will be developed with built-in screening capabilities.

Port security is about more than screening cargo and luggage. It's about screening people, too. The DHS instituted a program known as US-VISIT, which requires millions of foreign nationals to obtain "laser visas" that include digital photographs and biometrics. Already in operation at 119 airports and seaports, it will be expanded to 50 more of the United States' busiest land ports of entry this year. By the end of 2005, the program is supposed to encompass all 300 U.S. ports of entry.

The current control system for checking these visas, which takes about 15 seconds, is applied to nearly 30 million visitors per year. Processing these one at a time, all day every day, would take over 5000 man-days per year. Clearly, there's room for improvement. More importantly, the effectiveness of the program depends on the integration of diverse databases of biometric information and very high-speed processing and communications.

In the final analysis, though, the entire coordinated effort of homeland security can't rely solely on technology. "It is always a combination of people, policy, and technology," says Peter Allor, the director of operations for the Information Technology-Information Sharing and Analysis Center at Internet Security Systems. Technology is crucial to the overall effort, making feasible what otherwise is impossible. However, developers of such technologies and designers of the ensuing products must make sure that the end result complements the users and the policies driving them.

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