Cameras, GPS integrated to fight illegal immigration

The Immigration and Naturalization Service next month will begin adding cameras to an automated system that electronically monitors illegal immigration across U.S. borders.

During the next year the INS plans to install dozens of remotely operated cameras along the U.S./Mexico border. The cameras which will be tied into Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology and geographic information systems (GIS) will become part of INS' Integrated Surveillance Information System (ISIS) an automated system that allows INS agents to detect track and investigate illegal movement along the border.

The system will be a leap from the current technology. For close to three decades the United States has used remote radio sensors that use seismic magnetic or infrared (IR) technology to detect movement along the borders. When a sensor was tripped it would send out a radio signal and an INS agent would be dispatched to check on it.

But in recent years INS has merged sensor information into an integrated package that on one end pinpoints the tripped sensors using a GPS and on the other end displays sensor locations via GIS. Adding cameras will allow INS agents at computer consoles to identify why a sensor has been tripped. The cameras should save field officers the trouble of checking on false alarms which are commonly caused by a cow or a wild animal.

INS will use contractor Chugach Development Corp. of Alaska and will spend almost $20 million to install about 80 camera stations along U.S. borders during the next year said Walt Drabik chief of the electronic systems section at INS. Each station mounted on top of tall poles will include four cameras: two IR cameras and two daytime color cameras. Each camera can spot images up to two miles away Drabik said. For hilly terrain INS will have to place cameras close together to cover the area. For example the 62 miles of border near San Diego would require about 75 post-mounted cameras for blanket coverage he said.

INS will deploy the cameras in San Diego next month with 17 units earmarked for that region. The agency also plans to put camera posts up in Texas near El Paso Brownsville and Del Rio as well as in Tucson Ariz.

Although each camera post will cost the government about $250 000 to set up the proposition is still less expensive than what it would take for around-the-clock border monitoring with pairs of $30-an-hour officers stationed every mile or so.

Behind the push for more widespread and efficient monitoring of U.S. borders are a swelling illegal-alien population which stands near 5 million and criticism that INS is failing its mission and that its functions should be merged into other federal agencies [FCW Oct. 6].

INS officials hope the remote sensors of which there are about 10 000 and the GIS abilities of the evolving ISIS will allow INS to pinpoint on electronic maps the hot spots for illegal border crossing to detect trends and predict patterns.

The addition of cameras gives INS agents even more insight into border happenings but watching what goes on along the border is only half the battle. Crucial to securing the borders will be INS' ability to plan for and react to incidents along the border said Chris Hertig an assistant professor at York College of Pennsylvania who teaches security management. "Response to alarms is problematic " he said. "The security industry has traditionally emphasized detection of fires or intrusions but perhaps has not engineered a response to [those] problems. INS could repeat this error. Detecting a problem does not solve the problem it is only an initial step toward resolution."

INS and Chugach still must determine how to get images from the cameras to the desktops of INS agents a solution that will require a lot of bandwidth said Michael Magnant Chugach program manager. INS and Chugach will look at a variety of telecommunications options to get images from remote points on the border and onto screens at INS offices. Land lines microwaves satellite communication and digital wireless networks are all options for moving images.

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