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SBInet Starts Construction in Arizona

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security had “a reasonable level of engineering confidence” in the SBInet technology to give the go-ahead to begin the buildout.

The high-tech surveillance system for the Southwest border has undergone a few years of testing and changes, and Monday (May 4) U.S. Customs and Border Protection began the installation in Arizona of what will be the backbone of a new generation of border surveillance and response systems.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security had “a reasonable level of engineering confidence” in the SBInet technology to give the go-ahead to begin the buildout in CBP’s Tucson-1 Sector, SBInet Executive Director Mark Borkowski told reporters Friday. That sector includes about 23 miles of border and will include nine towers with cameras and sensors and another eight for microwave communications.

In the next several weeks, SBInet will seek the DHS go-ahead (the “system qualification”) for installation of cameras and sensors on the towers.

With that go-ahead, SBInet will begin deployment in the Ajo-1 Sector of Arizona, with six sensor towers and six communications towers another 30 miles of border, sometime this summer, and will show the results to DHS around year’s end for approval to build in the test of Arizona.

SBInet also anticipates the installation of 200 unattended ground sensors (UGSs) in both the Tucson-1 and Ajo-1 Sectors.

Depending on budgets, SBInet envisions completing the Arizona deployments in 2011 or 2012 and nearly all the Southwest border in 2014.

DHS approval is coming after some setbacks and re-dos. Early prototypes of the system had problems including stability of monopole-mounted sensors and the over-sensitivity of some systems. SBInet and Boeing, the project’s prime contractor, set up a field-test area in New Mexico, a step officials now recognize as crucial to getting it right.

The system now calls for cameras and sensors mounted on four-legged modular towers, 25 feet high and stackable. The satellite communication system in the original test run was too slow, so it’s been replaced by microwave links. And improvements have been made in the interface for agents operating the system in the “common operating picture,” or COP.

It’s the use of that COP as a force multiplier that officials say is a major distinguishing feature of SBInet over the current use of remote cameras. Whereas traditional systems get response only from agents actually watching monitors, the COP includes systems—unattended ground sensors, radar and day and night cameras—that will automatically speak with one another, tracking incidents and alerting agents when necessary.

“The biggest thing is it allows one person to monitor a very large area.” said Border Patrol Assistant Chief Tim Engman. “This COP gives us the ability to track multiple entities over a greater area of responsibility.”

SBInet is a technology program that Borkowski describes as one of three prongs of border protection between the authorized ports of entry—the other two prongs being personnel and the “tactical infrastructure” such as roads, fences and vegetation removal.

When all’s done, SBInet foresees detection of a minimum of 70 percent of border incursions, with a goal of 85 percent. But Borkowski notes that SBI net technology is just a contributor to the overall border control picture.

Also this week, deployment of SBInet began on the U.S.-Canada border near Buffalo with the construction of five remote video surveillance systems (RVSSs) with four cameras each (two day and two night cams), but those buildouts will not immediately get the COP systems. Deployment of RVSSs are planned in the Detroit area in July.