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Transportation Security

Securing air, land and sea borders is the first line of defense against terrorism.

Thus, it was appropriate that the 7th Annual Technology for Critical Incident Conference and Exposition started with a session on transportation security.

Attendees heard from representatives from the key federal agencies charged with transportation security: U.S. Coast Guard, Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The session was opened up by Nick Cartwright, Director, Security Technology, Transport Canada ( Canada, our largest trading partner, is working with the United States on over 50 technology programs. One, securing BlackBerry communications should be of interest to law enforcement and other first responders. Cartwright noted, “This is the most cooperation between nations he has ever seen…that’s because we are fighting a common enemy.” He also pointed out one big challenge with the sophisticated detection technologies used today is that we’re trying to essentially have medical equipment perform in a high throughput transportation environment.

The complexities of the homeland security mission was highlighted by the several “hats” worn by U.S. Coast Guard Captain Peter Neffenger ( He is not only the Captain of Port, Los Angeles-Long Beach, but also Sector Commander for Coast Guard units that serve a large portion of the California coast. Here the Coast Guard is responsible for search and rescue, homeland security, law enforcement, marine safety and navigation aids. Captain Neffenger covered some of the new technologies being used or being developed to accomplish these missions.

The Coast Guard is modernizing and replacing its aging ships and aircraft through the Integrated Deepwater System (IDS) program. When complete, the IDS will include three classes of new cutters and associated small boats, a new fixed-wing aircraft fleet, combination of new and upgraded helicopters, and both cutter-and land-based unmanned air vehicles (UAVs). All of these assets are linked with Command, Control, Communications and Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) system.

Neffenger noted that the Automatic Identification System (AIS) is a step toward satisfying a need for overall marine surveillance capability similar to the FAA’s current ability to know about virtually every aircraft in the skies over the United States. AIS allows vessel tracking and identification as well as collision avoidance, security and Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) reporting.

Transponders on vessels autonomously broadcast information about vessels like name or call sign, dimensions, type, GPS-derived position, course, speed, heading and pertinent navigation information. This information is continually updated in near real-time, and received by all AIS-equipped stations in its vicinity. As a security tool, it can be used to spot anomalies outside our ports that require action.

Rescue 21, essentially a maritime version of 911, allows the Coast Guard to respond faster to vessels in distress so mariners will be exposed to danger for shorter durations. This modern communications system includes direction-finding equipment to help locate distressed vessels within 20 miles of the shore. Among its capabilities is enhanced interoperability with other federal, state and local communications systems.

Adele Fasano is the Director of Field Operations, Customs and Border Protection ( Her responsibilities include the very busy San Ysidro and Otay entry ports. From a law enforcement standpoint, the CBP is charged with apprehending felons on the run, drug traffickers and terrorists. Fasano presented an overview of several technologies to prevent terrorists and weapons of mass destruction from entering the country. All were designed to provide security with a minimum impact on service.

SENTRI (Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection) allows vigorous enforcement of the law while accelerating the inspection of low risk, pre-enrolled crossers at ports of entry. Using advanced Automatic Vehicle Identification, the system identifies low risk travelers and verifies their low risk status through extensive record checks. It screens approved participants and their vehicles each and every time they enter the United States.

The inspection process includes a visual comparison of vehicles and their passengers with the data on a computer screen. Data maintained in a SENTRI enrollment system computer includes digitized photographs of the vehicles occupants. Further verification is via a magnetic stripe reader and the border crosser’s PortPass Identification Number.

Simultaneously, automatic digital license plate readers and computers perform queries of the vehicles and their occupants against continuously updated law enforcement databases. Electric gates, tire shredders, traffic control lights, fixed iron bollards, and pop-up pneumatic bollards ensure physical control of the border crosser and their vehicles. Participants in the program wait for much shorter periods of time than regular lanes to enter the United States, even at the busiest time of day.

CSI (Container Security Initiative) extends the zone of security so American borders are the last line of defense, not the first. With CSI, maritime cargo containers that pose a terrorism risk are identified and examined at foreign ports before they are shipped to the United States. Intelligence and automated information systems identify and target the containers that pose a risk. Using advanced screening technology, containers that pose a risk are pre-screened at the port of departure. Screening is done by teams of CBP officials working with their host nation counterparts. Also smarter, tamper-evident containers are used.

C-TPAT (Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism) is a joint government and business initiative to improve cargo security at the U.S.-Canadian border while improving the flow of trade. Under C-TPAT, businesses conduct comprehensive self-assessments of their supply chain using the security guidelines developed jointly with the Customs Service. Businesses provide specific information about their trucks, drivers, cargo, suppliers and routes. Businesses taking these necessary steps to secure their cargo against terrorism are given the “fast lane” through the border.

FAST (Free and Secure Trade) is an expedited-clearance system designed to improve border security without slowing the flow of legitimate trade. The initiative builds on the CSI and C-TPAT. What makes FAST different from these previous initiatives is the degree of coordination and cooperation between Canada and the United States, especially in regard to data collection and sharing.

Importers, carriers and drivers enrolled in FAST provide customs with the required information electronically, before a shipment arrives at the border. When a truck arrives at the border, transponders read an encoded number encrypted on a bar-coded window sticker. Information identifying the carrier and shipment appear instantly on the inspector’s computer screen.

The driver holds up a special “driver’s card,” also encoded with information, that tells the same inspector exactly who the driver is, where he’s been, and where he’s going. The time saved gives the inspector more time to turn a practiced eye on both the driver and his vehicle, and to make the kind of personal, intuitive assessment that can make an important difference.

Brig. Gen. Mike Aquilar (USMC Ret), Deputy Assistant Administrator San Diego, International Airport covered the challenges facing the TSA as well as progress made in meeting these challenges. Foremost, is the challenge of providing security with minimum interruption of service, the primarily mission of airlines or other transportation service providers.

According to Gen. Aquilar, after 9/11, there was a rush to install detection equipment at airports. Much of this equipment was installed in hodge-podge fashion in lobbies. Now, the goal is to get the equipment out of the lobby and to minimize the footprint of the equipment. A key ingredient of successful security is to have 24/7 Security Equipment Support Services to ensure screening equipment is running continuously at peak efficiency.

He also pointed out the need for augmentation to portal screening such as good intelligence and use of behavior pattern recognition. Heightened Public awareness like it was right after 9/11 is also needed. The best defense is to find where terrorists are building bombs or brewing toxin chemicals. This means good intelligence gathering and the capability to analyze the huge amount of resulting information.

Joe Foster, Program Manager, (, from the DHS covered the unique challenges of protecting rail transportation from terrorists. Threats include radiation from nuclear devices and dirty bombs as well as explosive devices used by suicide bombers and in left-behind packages.

The big problem is adapting airline inspection technologies into the much greater throughout rail environment. This means current X-ray detection equipment cannot handle rush hour conditions if everyone is to be screened. Selective scanning brings the issues of profiling in selecting who is to be scanned. One less subjective solution in selection is to use computerized random number generators to pick those for further inspections.

Bomb detection in the mass transit environment is a big challenge. Unlike airports, mass transit systems are designed to transports thousands of people rapidly. There is no single portal as at airports where security checks can be made. For example, to screen each subway passenger in New York would require nearly 500 screening stations, which are expensive, labor intensive and probably impractical. Also, surveillance systems are very labor intensive so today there is usually not enough people to monitor all video being captured.

Possible solutions include “turnstile” inspection using biometric technologies. As in airline travel, a Trusted Traveler Program for well vetted users can help reduce time consuming inspections without comprising security. Foster mentioned the promising success the Auburn University Canine and Detection Research Institute has had in training detector dogs to sniff out explosives carried by suicide bombers and other terrorists in crowded rail terminals. Another technique is to use patrolling bomb squads to rove through stations randomly checking for suspicious activity.

Finally, Foster provided a tip that should be heeded by first responder agencies should detection fail. He said they should become one with any rail systems in their locale. This includes a mutual knowledge of who’s who in the agencies, their facilities and rolling stock, first responders’ capabilities, and so forth. First responders should do actual emergency training with rail authority personnel.

Bill Siuru is a retired USAF Colonel. Since retiring he has done consulting and writing. He currently is the technical editor for several publications: Diesel Progress, Green Car Journal, and Police and Security News. He has a PhD in Mechanical Engineering. Highlights of his military career include a professor at West Point, commander of the research laboratory at the Air Force Academy and Director of Engineering at Wright-Patterson AFB. Bill Siuru can be reached at

Published in Law and Order, May 2006

Rating : 10.0

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