Government Technology

    Digital Communities
    Industry Members

  • Click sponsor logos for whitepapers, case studies, and best practices.
  • McAfee

Ground Penetrating Radar May Soon Help Secure the Southern Border


Ground Penetrating Radar 2
Ground Penetrating Radar 2

July 1, 2009 By

Photo: Agents discovered this tunnel in Nogales, Arizona. It ended up on the Mexican side of the U.S. Mexico border. Five drug trafficking suspects were arrested and the tunnel destroyed.

We've been hearing about technology securing the US border for years. Yet the degree that technology is actually safeguarding the country (and especially the local communities along the border) is an open question. In recent years, for instance, criminals of all descriptions have been digging tunnels along the U.S. Mexican border at a fast and furious pace. U.S. border patrol agents discover a new one almost every month.

While most tunnels are used to move drugs or people, they could also be used to move in weapons and explosives for a terrorist attack. Tunnels are a serious challenge for border patrol agents because they can begin and end almost anywhere. Their entrances and exits are often hidden inside old warehouses or under trees. And if old ones are discovered, new ones are quickly started by the criminal enterprises that have come to rely on this method for smuggling drugs and people.

So far, not a single tunnel has ever been discovered by US border patrol agents using technology. "All of them have been found by accident or human intelligence," explained Ed Turner, a project manager with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) in a news release issued yesterday.

According to the Science and Technology Directorate, new technology is desperately needed to battle these secret burrows. So in partnership with Lockheed Martin, DHS S&T has launched the Tunnel Detection Project as part of the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA), a distinct office within S&T set up to think out-of-the-box.

The idea they are pursuing is the use of sophisticated ground penetrating radar to rapidly detect the presence of tunnels and to plug them as fast as the criminals can dig them.

Initial Development Phase

Initially, S&T explored the possibility of an unmanned aircraft equipped with radar technology that would fly along the border searching for tunnels. While this concept remains a goal, Department scientists and agents realize that most of the existing tunnels run through large urban centers where they are difficult to spot from satellite imagery. In addition, the airborne radar's radio frequency signals pose privacy concerns if they cross into someone's home.

Photo: An early prototype of S&T's ground penetrating radar on display at a demonstration this spring. Engineers tested the technology in a giant sandbox to simulate conditions along the southern U.S. border. (DHS S&T)

The new design technology is to place the radar antennas in a trailer that will be towed by a Border Patrol truck. The antennas shoot a signal directly into the ground and use it to construct a multi-colored picture of the earth. Tunnels show up as red, yellow, and aquamarine dots against a blue background. Border patrols agents would see these images on a monitor mounted inside their truck.

Ground penetrating radar is a promising technology because it is already used by civil engineers to reconstruct underground images. These engineers, however, are usually only interested in detecting cables or pipes that may be a few meters beneath the earth. S&T must find tunnels that often run much deeper. To find these, the radar uses much lower frequencies that penetrate the ground much better, and a sophisticated new imaging technology that can display clear pictures of deep tunnels.

The Lockheed Martin team showed off an early scale model prototype this spring, mimicking the Southern U.S. border with large box filled with sand and rocks, and using pipes as tunnels.

Next, they will send the technology to the Southwest this summer, where it will be tested against the rigors of the real life border. Separating tunnels from rocks, plants, and other objects along the ground or buried shallowly will be a key test.

"We want to develop something that can be used with high reliability so you'll find tunnels and not other things in the ground," said Turner.

 


| More

Comments

Add Your Comment

You are solely responsible for the content of your comments. We reserve the right to remove comments that are considered profane, vulgar, obscene, factually inaccurate, off-topic, or considered a personal attack.

In Our Library

White Papers | Exclusives Reports | Webinar Archives | Best Practices and Case Studies
Digital Cities & Counties Survey: Best Practices Quick Reference Guide
This Best Practices Quick Reference Guide is a compilation of examples from the 2013 Digital Cities and Counties Surveys showcasing the innovative ways local governments are using technological tools to respond to the needs of their communities. It is our hope that by calling attention to just a few examples from cities and counties of all sizes, we will encourage further collaboration and spark additional creativity in local government service delivery.
Wireless Reporting Takes Pain (& Wait) out of Voting
In Michigan and Minnesota counties, wireless voting via the AT&T network has brought speed, efficiency and accuracy to elections - another illustration of how mobility and machine-to-machine (M2M) technology help governments to bring superior services and communication to constituents.
Why Would a City Proclaim Their Data “Open by Default?”
The City of Palo Alto, California, a 2013 Center for Digital Government Digital City Survey winner, has officially proclaimed “open” to be the default setting for all city data. Are they courageous or crazy?
View All