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Boeing, Department of Homeland Security Implement Project 28 Virtual Fence

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has commissioned Boeing in the production, testing and implementation of Project 28, the DHS’s virtual fence, along a 28-mile stretch of the U.S./Mexico border just south of Tucson, AZ. P28 is one section of approximately 37 sectors for the Secure Borders Initiative Network (SBInet). SBInet is a system of surveillance, communication and response which will be used to patrol and protect the Mexican and Canadian borders.

Project 28 utilizes integrated mobile sensor towers, ground sensors, dependable communications devices (satellite phones), upgraded response vehicles and advanced response training to maintain a secure border. There will be a total of nine towers across this 28-mile stretch, which will incorporate radar, inferred cameras, motion sensors and other surveillance methods.

As of April 4, Boeing announced the successful testing of the towers, and has since been deploying them to the border. Boeing won the contract back in September 2006 and has been on a tight deadline to have P28 done by mid-June.

Boeing is concerned with the sensitivity of this project and unable to comment, but Mike Potter, project manager for Project 28 with the Department of Homeland Security, was available to answer questions.

Design News: How is the production of the sensor tower going?

Potter: The first tower has been erected in the Project 28 area of operations and the next two towers are scheduled for installation from 8-11 May. We expect to complete the deployment on schedule.

I read that you recently tested the towers. How did the tests go? What exactly were you testing?

The first SBInet integrated mobile sensor tower tested successfully in Fort Walton Beach, FL. During two days of testing, engineers examined the tower’s infrastructure to ensure it can be deployed while meeting established technical criteria, such as for the interfaces between power, data, cameras, radar and the tower’s security system. According to Dr. Kirk Evans, SBInet program manager, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), “The tower and its components functioned as expected. The cameras provided clear, stable imagery, and we are confident that the design is repeatable for deployment along the border.”

What type of technical criteria did you have to conform to for the production of the towers and the development of the system?

Project 28 is a performance-based contract with specific performance goals. The Mobile Tower Surveillance System (MTSS) is a key component of the overall design of the solution. The technical design of the MTSS is based on achieving the overall performance goals of detection, identification, classification and successful law enforcement resolution.

How does the overall system work? How many components are involved in the collection of information and protection of the border ?

The four primary components of the P28 border security system are the mobile integrated sensor towers, the P28 Common Operating Picture (COP), enhanced communications and upgraded agent vehicles. Once all nine towers are in place, they will provide surveillance data to the COP. COP data will then be transmitted to headquarters facilities and deployed Border Patrol agent vehicles, increasing situational awareness, mission efficiency and Agent safety.

What is the ‘Common Operating Picture?’

When combined with vehicle modifications, the towers will provide surveillance data to a Common Operating Picture, which allows Border Patrol complete situational awareness and increased mission effectiveness. The COP will also provide agents with accurate, near real-time information of both CBP assets and intruder locations. Additionally, COP capability enables Border Patrol agents to communicate with each other, Border Patrol stations, Border Patrol sectors and other law enforcement personnel.

What is the role of Boeing vs. that of the subcontractors? How is DHS overseeing the process?

Boeing is the prime contractor of the SBInet technology and tactical infrastructure. Boeing is leveraging the expertise and capabilities of their subcontractors to provide a system of best value and low-risk solutions to DHS and CBP. The Boeing-SBInet team brings combined experience in deploying large-scale systems integration efforts as well as in security, border security, surveillance systems and other areas that enable the team to understand the needs and challenges of CBP and the Border Patrol to deliver the right SBInet solution. The SBInet solution will be managed and executed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, and will be deployed using a homeland security threat-based approach.

CBP has assigned trained/certified project managers and contracting officer’s technical representatives (COTRs) for each of the task orders and has opened a Southwest Field Office in Tucson, AZ to directly manage and monitor the first installation of technology and tactical infrastructure.

How is the maintenance of the project going to work, and what are the plans for the future beyond Project 28?

Project 28 technology is covered by a one-year warranty. Plans are in the works for an integrated logistic support contract that will cover all aspects of any maintenance requirements in the future.

I’ve heard numbers of 1,800 towers. Is this accurate?

I understand you heard that 1,800 towers will be erected. However, this number is incorrect. At this point, the number is around 850 and this depends on the terrain and land situation (for example, foliage). However, within Project 28, nine towers will be used as the initial phase of SBInet, the program management component of the Secure Border Initiative (SBI). 

How do you plan on incorporating ground sensors, and how will they work?

Project 28 will incorporate unattended ground sensors (UGS) that will detect intrusions via magnetic, seismic and acoustic sensors and transmit information that will be distributed via the Common Operational Picture (COP).

Have there been any snags in the project?

No significant problems have been encountered in developing or deploying the Project 28 technology.

Is there anything else you would want our engineering readers to know about the sensors or the towers?

The overall solution focuses on providing detailed Situational Awareness through the COP to give the field agent the advantage of real-time, integrated information about illegal crossing activity and smuggling operations.

The deployment strategy includes the appropriate mix and amount of systems along border areas that are between ports of entry. The system will detect, monitor and identify potential threats and enable the command centers to dispatch the right agents and resources to rapidly respond to the situation.

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