Innovations Lead To Multi-Pronged Homeland Defense

June 13, 2007
To stay a step ahead of any threat, RF products and communications are securing points of entry, ports, airlines, and any other vulnerable spot.

Markets that are heavily funded often encourage the development of a breadth of products and technologies. Such is the case with today’s homeland-security market. The events of September 11, 2001 revealed just how vulnerable the United States was, and began the growth of a market based on using the latest technologies to preserve safety and freedom. From the lack of updated “sniffers” at airports to radio interoperability between different public-safety agencies, a lot of problems had been overlooked. Suddenly, the US government realized how many holes existed in the country’s security. A landslide of funding became available and engineering companies responded with a breadth of developments that hope to protect this country by air, land, and sea.

The fact is that terrorist attacks are not limited to buses, airplanes, mass-transit targets, and the like. The nation also must monitor its water supplies, chemical and nuclear plants, and more. Depending on a terrorist organization’s level of resources, any bomb may be a threat. On April 6, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) weapon system successfully intercepted a target in its second flight test. During this test, which was conducted by the US Missile Defense Agency and Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, MD), the THAAD system intercepted a unitary target at the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) on Kauai, HI (Fig. 1).

THAAD comprises a fire-control and communications system, interceptors, launchers, and radar. Earlier this year, the first flight test conducted at PMRF demonstrated THAAD’s ability to intercept a threat representative target in the high endo-atmosphere.

In the April test, the target was intercepted in the mid endo-atmosphere. In addition, the THAAD Fire Control and Communications unit’s data link communicated with a simulated Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense ship via a satellite link with the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in San Diego, CA. This link highlights the interoperability of the various elements of the United States’ Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS).

BAE Systems’ (Nashua, NH) infrared seeker for the THAAD weapon system was key to the April 6 test. That seeker transmits infrared imagery about the targeted warhead to the missile’s computer. In doing so, it guides the interceptor to its target. The seeker met all required parameters, paving the way for additional intercept testing to continue through 2009. Upcoming tests planned at the Pacific Missile Range facility will be against increasingly complex targets outside the earth’s atmosphere.

The nation’s seas—or more specifically, its ports—also are seen as a very vulnerable point. A number of solutions are working to pinpoint such threats. During inspection trials for underwater improvised explosive devices (IEDs), for example, the US Coast Guard (USCG) recently completed field evaluations of the BlueView P900E from BlueView Technologies, Inc. (Seattle, WA). The evaluations, which were conducted for the USCG by the University of South Florida's Center for Ocean Technology (COT), evaluated new sensors for use in critical homeland-security missions. A series of official underwater IED targets were placed around pilings, seawalls, and on the harbor bottom to simulate a terrorist port-security event. The targets were then detected and inspected with the P900 in patrol vessel and remotely operated vehicle (ROV)-mounted configurations.

The P900E multibeam imaging sonar relies on a new technology that produces miniaturized, underwater vision systems that can be affordably deployed in large numbers (Fig. 2). The P900E is comparable in size to underwater video cameras and delivers video-like streaming imagery. Because it uses sound instead of light to make images, it is not affected by water clarity.

Of course, cargo does not just travel by sea. Many technology developments also target container-inspection systems for land border crossings, port entrances, and more. Earlier this year, Science Applications International Corp. (San Diego, CA) received a contract from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection, to install three VACIS P7500 container inspection systems in support of the Secure Freight Initiative international pilot program. The VACIS P7500 inspection system is a compact, high-energy, X-ray-based portal-container inspection system. It is designed to image dense cargo in high-volume throughput operations. The VACIS P7500 imaging system can scan up to 150 containers per hour in free-flow operation.

As entrances to the US and strategic locations within its borders beefed up their inspection systems, many found that those systems produced an abundance of false alerts. Raytheon (Tewksbury, MA) won a DHS contract for four engineering development models of the Advanced Spectroscopic Portal (ASP), which promise to eliminate that problem. Advanced spectroscopic portals are panel-like devices. They contain detectors that are used to screen people, cars, trucks, and containers for illicit radioactive materials at some of the more than 600 ports of entry into the US.

The Raytheon ASP can check individuals as well as cargo. Although more combined solutions like ASP are being created, passenger screening also is evolving. Using passive millimeter-wave screening equipment, for example, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)—in partnership with the New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT)—recently conducted a three-week test of advanced explosives-detection technology. The test was part of the agency’s Security Enhancement and Capabilities Augmentation Program (SEACAP). During the program, TSA conducted explosives screening on passengers boarding the Staten Island Ferry at the St. George Terminal using passive millimeter-wave screening equipment. The SEACAP pilot employs passive millimeter-wave technology to screen passengers for person-borne explosives before they board the ferry to lower Manhattan.

To keep the process non-intrusive and time-efficient, screening equipment was angled to passively screen passengers as they passed through turnstiles to enter the ferry terminal waiting area. Video images of the scanned passengers were monitored by TSA’s Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) from a station set up to the side of the waiting area. The TSOs in the monitoring station were in communication with roving TSOs, whom they could notify if any passenger displayed an anomaly.

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Not all of these solutions are rooted in radio-frequency technologies. Yet all of them must be able to communicate their data in order for that information to be used in a timely manner. RF forms the backbone of such communications capability. It also is core to the resolution of interoperability issues and other problems that could hamper an emergency response. M/A-COM (Lowell, MA), for instance, has enhanced its OpenSky platform to improve mobile coverage for critical communications. The company hopes to enable users of traditional analog 800- and 900-MHz communications systems to cost effectively migrate to an OpenSky digital communications platform. The migration to two-slot, IP-based OpenSky technology occurs on the existing analog system’s physical infrastructure. Yet it more than doubles the capacity for voice and data communications while maintaining the same mobile radio coverage provided by the existing system.

This next generation of OpenSky technology is usable with both the 25-kHz (800) and 12.5-kHz (900) channels. When operating in two-slot mode, the resulting system can match an existing 800- or 900-MHz analog footprint for forward and reverse mobile radio coverage. Users gain the features of digital communications, which include fully integrated voice and data on a single radio, without having to add or move existing tower sites. The embedded control micro-slots in every forward channel eliminate the need for dedicated control channels. As a result, additional channels are freed up even after the capacity has been doubled.

In a terrorist event or other large-scale emergency, existing communications may be insufficient because of issues relating to interoperability, service, or other aspects. A range of communications solutions exists to fill this void. GEOCommand, Inc. (Boca Raton, FL) offers an emergency-response solution that incorporates an advanced mobile Geographic Information System (GIS) and interoperable two-way data communications. This past April, the company demonstrated its Emergency Response Information System for the DHS Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) in Anniston, Alabama. The demonstration consisted of two parts: a simulated emergency response to a hypothetical chemical spill and a live demonstration.

During the simulation, GEOCommand displayed its multi-functional map including aerial photography, structure footprints, real-time vehicle positions, and remote sensor data including weather and chemical sensors. The map also displayed North American Emergency Response Guide (NAERG) isolation distances for chemicals stored at the Toxic Agent Training Facility. On the way to the emergency, first responders were able to review GEOCommand’s emergency response plan for the site. The response plan contained a full complement of planning documents including floor plans, digital photos, emergency contacts, and hazardous materials.

During the live demonstration, GEOCommand used data radio and networking equipment from several manufacturers to operate on four radio frequencies in the VHF and UHF bands simultaneously: 220 MHz, 450 MHz, 900 MHz, and 2.4 GHz. Using these frequencies, GEOCommand integrated streamed video and data from remote weather sensors, remote radiation sensors, and GPS. In the event of a disaster that disables communications systems, GEOCommand vows to allow responders to quickly deploy a backup data radio system.

These developments are just a snapshot of the ongoing developments in the homeland-security arena. Other technologies are devoted to the detection of bio-chemical agents, the tracking of terrorist suspects, and more. With the continued funding of homeland-security solutions—on local, state, and national levels—such development will continue. With the right mix of solutions, another terrorist attack may be prevented. If it cannot be prevented, however, at least our first responders will be armed with information that allows them to help the most people in the shortest amount of time.

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