DHS' new approach to border surveillance looks similar to SBInet

Integrated Fixed Towers program would have many of the same features as abandoned program

The Homeland Security Department is setting the stage to acquire next-generation border surveillance technologies to replace the abandoned Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet) system.

The newly proposed Integrated Fixed Towers (IFT) acquisition program — which is still in the planning phase -- appears to have some features in common with the recently canceled SBInet, which comprised integrated systems mounted on towers.

In a Request for Information Jan. 18 , DHS’ U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency said it is seeking commercial off-the-shelf solutions “for deployment at fixed, elevated sites, hereafter referred to as Integrated Fixed Towers, that would provide automated, persistent wide area surveillance for the detection, tracking, identification, and classification of illegal entries. The capability sought would provide additional situational awareness and will allow CBP to more efficiently and effectively respond to border incursions where deployed.”

CBP “intends to procure an existing, fully developed, and integrated system that makes maximum use of an open systems approach,” the RFI added.

The IFT system also must include a common operating picture to integrate information on a single screen for an operator. The SBInet system also had one or more common operating pictures.

Some experts have characterized the IFT approach as following the same path as the doomed SBInet system, according to a NextGov story.

CBP described the IFT request as open-ended, and said it has not made a commitment to building the integrated fixed towers or buying any solutions.

SBInet was initially conceived in 2005 to bring integrated cameras and sensors to the entire United States-Mexico land border. The contract was awarded to Boeing Co. in September 2006 and a 28-mile prototype began operating in February 2008. Construction on a 53-mile permanent segment is nearing completion.

However, SBInet has been plagued by cost overruns, delays, technical glitches, user complaints and management problems.

On Jan. 14, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano canceled the remainder of SBInet after a year-long reassessment. The existing 53-mile segment will remain in operation in Arizona while future development will be halted and alternative solutions will be deployed in the nine sectors along the remainder of the U.S.-Mexico border to fit terrain in each sector, she said.

The RFI provides a number of details on the requirements of the system, including listing the types of objects to be detected and specifying that the system must operate under adverse weather conditions.

The agency, in an addendum on Jan. 25, said it anticipates awarding a competitive contract for the Integrated Fixed Towers under a contract that is separate from the SBInet contract.


About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.


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