Past Features

September 27, 2017

Ground Radar -- America's front-line border security system
Was this a mistake?

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Glenn Spencer -- September 27, 2017  
DHS/CBP committed to ground radar --- no matter what
   The most significant and costly border technology project underway today is called Integrated Fixed Towers (IFT).
    Twenty-three of 52 planned IFT systems have been installed so far at a cost of about $500 million. Many sit idle today.
Background --- 2005 Senate Hearing
    In a 2005 Senate Hearing, Kirk Evans, Director of Mission Support for DHS, explained serious problems with Border Patrol ground sensors.
     "If we were to use the kinds of ground sensors we have today with, on the average, let's say, a 10-meter detection range and we want to have a probability of detection of anything crossing that border of 50 percent, that would require 3 million sensors, 3 million sets of systems.”
    "Second is the false alarm rate. Assume that the Border Patrol manpower along the Southern border --- and that is a big assumption on my part --- allowed them to respond to four false alarms a day along the Southern border. If we had those 10-meter sensors, all 3 million of them, that amounts to a false alarm rate for each sense of 1 in 2,000 years. That is just not technologically achievable.” [...]
    "If one were to think of a series of sensors along the border, arguably we could think about a sensor capability of detecting a person crossing the border at 1 mile with a false alarm rate of 1 per 90 days, a field lifetime of a year, and a per unit cost much less than the tens of thousands of dollars --- or $30,000. Today, that sensor does not exist."
    Mr. Evans went on to discuss technologies that might be used to solve the ground sensor problem --- beginning with radar.
    It was no surprise, then, that a year later, DHS/CBP let a one billion dollar contract to Boeing to install radar-guided camera towers along the border in Arizona.
    Although the project was cancelled, DHS/CBP manager Mark Borkowski insisted it was still a good idea.
L.A. Times --- Feb. 22, 2010
    "It was a great idea, but it didn't work," said Mark Borkowski, executive director of the electronic fence program at the Homeland Security Department.
    "One of the kickers was that these radars had too many problems with clutter," Borkowski said. "Wind moving a tree shows up on the radar. And if you have too much of that, how do you find the person in the clutter? Same with cameras. The image is blurry.”

Chicago Tribune --- Sept. 27, 2009
Borkowski said the government deserves part of the blame for approving an overly ambitious project without sufficient testing.
Integrated Fixed Towers await testing
    On July 25, 2017, GAO issued a report saying that DHS “had not developed key attributes for for performance” of the IFT system, i.e., they hadn't been tested properly. To the best of my knowledge many of these IFT towers site idle awaiting that testing.
Borkowski already had his mind made up    
    In 2010, I and others gave a live demonstration of a new concept in ground sensors to members of the Arizona State Legislature.
    In August of 2013, I personally briefed Mark Borkowski on this invention.
    Mike King and I were awarded patents for this invention in 2015 and 2017.
    Now called SEIDARM, this technology solves every one of the problems Kirk Evans described above. It can detect anyone trying to cross the border at any point with a range of 500 feet --- not 30 feet --- and a less than 5% false alarm rate --- not 90%.
    SEIDARM is better than radar in telling cameras where to look --- and it can do a lot more. But it seems I was too late - Mark Borkowski already had his mind made up on radar as America's first line of border defense --- and no amount of scientific data was going to change it.
Note: One of the companies CBP picked to build a prototype Trump wall, Elta North America, builds ground radar.