Can technology monitor security at a bustling seaport more effectively than people? Can hardware and software search out security threats at an airport or railroad terminal faster than people? Can technological systems perceive evolving threats at a premier event like the Super Bowl where the crush of activity overwhelms human eyes and ears?
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) wants to find out. Working with the U.S. Coast Guard, the DHS Science and Technology Directorate is exploring the concept through a prototype called Hawkeye in South Florida. A maritime surveillance system, Hawkeye will integrate a host of different imaging technologies into an intelligent system capable of automating the detection, tracking, and even the evaluation of vessel traffic around ports, between ports and over the horizon. The goal is to create reliable technology that can monitor activities, connect diverse events that suggest potential threats and alert security personnel when necessary.
The $8 million, 24-month program will scan Port Everglades, Miami, part of Biscayne Bay and offshore approaches to the South Florida coast.
The DHS Science and Technology Directorate manages the research and development programs that lead to new security technologies like Hawkeye.
The Directorate’s numerous technology initiatives reflect DHS priorities for protecting critical infrastructure, such as the port facilities along the South Florida coast, improving transportation and border security, boosting emergency preparedness and response capabilities, anticipating emerging threats, speeding the development of prototypes and much more.
Setting technological research priorities begins with risk analysis. “Since specific threats aren’t always known, we have to look at risk in terms of potential vulnerabilities and consequences,” says Vayl Oxford, acting director of the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA), which is guiding the Hawkeye effort. “Within Science and Technology, we have formed teams that evaluate national guidance, vulnerabilities and gaps in our capabilities to come up with what they think will be the highest-payoff technology pursuits.”
The Directorate will spend approximately $1.2 billion of the $40 billion DHS budget this year. About $320 million will flow through HSARPA to private-sector technology providers for fast-track research and development.
Three other Science and Technology units will spend the remaining $880 million in the current Directorate budget. The Office of Research and Development deals with long-term technology research, working with a network of National Laboratories and research universities. The Systems Engineering and Development unit manages operational technical programs such as BioWatch, which monitors for biological threats. The Programs, Plans and Budgets office sets priorities, budgets and coordinates the needs of DHS agencies such as Customs and Border Protection with research and development activities.
As DHS risk analysis modifies priorities, spending patterns change. Last year, for example, HSARPA received about $600 million of the Science and Technology budget for fast-track technology research.
The Science and Technology Directorate identifies research projects by studying the needs of its operating agencies, such as Customs and Border Protection (CPB). “We respond to agency needs,” says Donald Tighe, a spokesperson for the DHS Science and Technology Directorate. “We look at the technologies the agencies are currently using and ask what innovations and advancements would make those tools more effective. We also ask them to evaluate tasks they are performing without technology and discuss how technology might help.”
What kinds of attacks can technology help defend against? While DHS steadfastly refuses to provide details related to security challenges, the agency does appear to use specific and chilling scenarios to help define its security goals.
In early March, a draft document called National Planning Scenarios was inadvertently posted on a Web site managed by the State of Hawaii. The document, reprinted by The New York Times on March 16, outlines 15 scenarios. They include three natural disasters and 12 terrorist attacks.
The scenarios for terrorist attacks include the detonation of a 10-kiloton nuclear bomb in a major city; a chemical weapons attack at a college football game; a release of sarin gas into the ventilation systems of three large office buildings; attacks with radiological bombs and improvised conventional bombs; and bio-weapons attacks on the food supply. Each scenario includes an estimate of casualties and economic costs.
While DHS won’t comment on the scenarios, Times’ reporter Eric Lipton speculated that by identifying possible attacks and outlining how government might act to prevent, respond to, and recover from each, DHS is attempting to define preparedness for the war on terror.
Currently, HSARPA is pursuing eight new technology research initiatives that might be considered key components of preparedness. Matching the National Planning Scenarios with HSARPA initiatives provides some insight into the priorities DHS has set for technology.
Hawkeye: An intelligent security system that watches for trouble
One of the National Planning Scenarios describes an attack on a chemical plant, in which terrorists sneak into a facility and bomb a chlorine gas storage tank. The resulting release of chlorine gas could leave 17,500 people dead, 10,000 severely injured, and as many as 100,000 hospitalized. Recovery costs would range into the millions.
Can such an attack or others that are similar in nature be detected and prevented? Perhaps. An HSARPA initiative called Automated Scene Understanding (ASU) might produce technology capable of detecting unusual activities in and around facilities in the months and weeks preceding a terrorist attack. Early detection of a terrorist plan might make it possible to prevent an attack.
Right now, many secure installations deploy closed circuit television (CCTV), specialized video and infrared cameras, radars and other kinds of imaging sensors to security personnel with a general situational awareness. But the volume of data generated by these vast sensing networks far outstrips the ability of operators to monitor and interpret. “We know that operators after a few minutes might not be able to focus the attention required to notice and connect events that might raise concern,” says Peter Miller, program manager in the HSARPA Mission Support Office.
ASU aims to “fuse, correlate, and interpret” fragments of data from diverse sensing and imaging systems — video, radar, seismic, acoustic, and other sources. The goal is to notice events that might take place in different areas of a facility, to connect the dots and raise an alarm while a preventive response remains possible.
“This is a complex area of science,” says Miller in describing the technical challenges. “It requires very sophisticated algorithms, computational resources, and numerous disciplines. While we can’t match the human ability of using the eyes and the brain to recognize things, we can perhaps create subsets of those abilities.”
ASU research contractors believe the analysis conducted by such an intelligent system will eventually be able to identify anomalous or explicitly specified scenarios, behaviors, events, patterns, tracks or objects. The intent is to reduce potentially thousands of sensor readings into a manageable, significant and interesting few.
In pursuing technology intelligent enough to think about what it sees, the ASU initiative focuses on three areas. First, research contractors are reviewing the conventional components of imaging systems, aiming to boost capabilities. Second, they have been asked to develop standardized components that will interoperate and help drive down the costs of expensive proprietary systems. Third, they will apply advanced techniques to the analysis of a test scene: the South Florida coastline.
Putting the technology to the test
Begun in 2003, the Hawkeye project in South Florida serves the operational test platform for ASU. Last year, Coast Guard centers in South Florida were equipped with new sensor systems including radar, video, infrared and Automatic Identification Systems.
The prototype’s goal is to provide a coastal surveillance capability in a high-priority area; offer the Coast Guard and its DHS and local and state partners the means to develop additional operational platforms; and test interoperability among Homeland Security and Department of Defense systems and networks.
Operated by a team of six watch-standers, Hawkeye aims to push the borders out and give the Coast Guard new ways to find mariners in distress, intercept drug smugglers and defend against terrorist attacks. If successful, Hawkeye technology would enhance the security of large potential targets across the country, from a marine terminal to a chemical plant.
“We’re very excited about all of our research projects,” Oxford says. “If we reach 60 to 70 percent of the technology goals we’ve identified, we will begin to make fundamental changes in security capabilities.”
HSARPA’S CURRENT RESEARCH
The Homeland Security Advanced Research Project Agency (HSARPA) is managing more than a dozen fast-track technological research initiatives for the Department of Homeland Security. Profiles of the eight newest projects appear on one of the agencies web sites: www.hsarpabaa.com They include:
The Automated Scene Understanding Program aims to develop intelligent surveillance systems capable of correlating and interpreting fragments of information derived from video, radar, seismic, acoustic and other monitoring technologies. The intent is to reduce thousands of objects, tracks, events, situations, behaviors and scenarios to the few that matter — so that security teams can respond before an attack occurs.
The Detection Systems For Radiological and Nuclear Countermeasure Program is designed to contribute to an overall system of countermeasures aimed at radiological or dirty bombs or nuclear weapons. In its solicitation, HSARPA asked research contractors for systems capable of detecting shielded nuclear materials, while reducing nuisance or false alarms. The technology must also be economical enough to be deployed liberally at points of entry and critical installations around the country.
The Prototypes and Technology for Improvised Explosive Device Detection Program calls for the rapid prototyping of improved and new systems capable of detecting explosive compounds in vehicles — car and truck bombs. In addition, this initiative provides funds for the research and development of next-generation bomb detection technology that will be capable of detecting not only bombs concealed in vehicles but also those carried by suicide bombers or hidden in leave-behind packages.
The Advanced Spectroscopic Portal Monitors Program asks for the fast-track development of new detectors capable of identifying controlled nuclear materials. Designed to scan vehicles, cargo trucks and rail cars, the walls of the spectroscopic portal would contain sensors capable of detecting gamma rays and neutron emissions from bombs or plutonium and highly enriched uranium that could be used to make bombs. Acceptable designs must be able to discriminate between medical, industrial and other legitimate sources of radiation, exploit inexpensive commercial components, and offer pricing to facilitate widespread acquisition.
The Innovative New Materials for Personal Protective Equipment Program calls on research contractors to develop revolutionary new materials for first responders to wear when responding to an emergency. In its request, DHS urges researchers to develop a single revolutionary material that will protect against chemical, biological, radiological, thermal, and environmental hazards — without compromising freedom of movement.
The Low Vapor Pressure Chemicals Detection Systems Program requests technological enhancements for existing chemical detection systems as well as the development of next-generation detection systems. The program aims to equip first responders with handheld devices effective at a standoff distance of three meters. It also aims at the development of chemical detection systems that will be permanently installed for continuous monitoring.
The Food Biological Agent Detection Sensor Program calls for the development of portable or laboratory-based detection methods that can be used at food manufacturing facilities. Sensors will offer low-level detection, low probabilities of both false positives and false negatives, automated operation for non-technical personnel, rapid analysis and low total cost of ownership.
The Instantaneous Bio-Aerosol Detector Systems Program aims to improve existing biological weapons detection systems, while extending detection to new forums. Under this program, HSARPA asks for new, low-cost systems that can speed the detection of very low levels of biological materials in the air inside enclosed spaces. The program also calls for sensors capable of monitoring large indoor and semi-enclosed outdoor spaces including auditoriums, arenas, airports, subways, atriums and shopping malls.