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Israeli technology may assist in solving some of the problems that delay the deployment of the sensors along the U.S. – Mexican border. Israel has a vast experience in using sensors along border fences similar to the one the U.S. is building and upgrading.
The U.S. government’s plan to spend millions on advanced new ground sensors at the Mexican border has been delayed, that fact was exposed by WIRED magazine. The reason – the sensors have bandwidth and frequency problems they haven’t resolved yet. The delay isn’t the first – and it comes as thousands of aging sensors dotting the border trigger false alarms that have proved deadly to Border Patrol agents.
The Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) originally planned to blanket the border with a new generation of “unattended ground sensors,” or UGS’s. It was supposed to be a big help for Border Patrol agents, intended to “track, identify, and classify illegal incursions” across the border, according to a solicitation sent to businesses by CBP in April 2011. But last week, an update to the solicitation made it seem like it was canceled, stating abruptly that there are no plans to “release a solicitation for this specific requirement in the near future.”
According to CBP, it hasn’t been canceled outright – but it has been delayed for much, if not most, of 2013. The problem: The sensors can’t talk to the rest of the tech along the border.
The delay is only the latest set of woes for the border security program. In recent months, it’s has been reportedly beset by delays and changing requirements, and the agency as a whole has been reportedly short-staffed and plagued by budget cuts.
The sensors are also supposed to be tough. They have to able to survive in extreme weather, and be finely tuned enough to distinguish between individuals and groups of people, as well as telling people apart from animals. Finally, CBP wants the sensors to spot vehicles, and tell different vehicles apart from each other, like in spotting whether a vehicle is a truck or actually a motorcycle. Unlike most conventional ground sensors, which rely largely on acoustic and seismic measurements, the sensors would “incorporate a variety of external detectors and/or probes, such as, but not limited to seismic, magnetic, acoustic, IR imager, [and] radar,” the solicitation noted at the time.
Most of the 12,800 sensors currently used along the border aren’t as advanced. According to the Los Angeles Times, their batteries have been corroded from rainfall, and ants have chewed the wires. The short-range sensors have difficulty distinguishing human activity from animals or environmental sounds like falling rocks and wind. Worst of all, they have a very high rate of false alarms. A 2005 report from the DHS Inspector General found only four percent of signals were caused by people illegally crossing the border. Thirty-four percent of signals were false alarms, and 62 percent of signals were utterly unknown as to their origins.
These false alarms are a big risk to the women and men who patrol the border. In October, one Border Patrol agent was killed and another wounded when two groups of agents stumbled into each other in the darkness and opened fire while investigating a tripped sensor. The sensor was later found to have broadcast a false alarm.