200+ US/Mexico Border Camera Towers Request Issued

By: Brian Karas, Published on Jan 30, 2017

Can you design and install a system to detect illegal border crossings, day or night, out to a distance of 7.5 miles?

US Customs and Border Protection has issued an RFI for 200+ "stationary and relocatable" camera towers to be positioned primarily along the U.S./Mexico border.

We examine this RFI, and the feasibility of the requirements in this report.

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Comments (23)

10 Million "W Box" kits should do the trick. When can I get started?

If we scratch the N out of Hikvision...can we use HIKVISIO cameras?

It's interesting you bring that up, I was expecting to see some form of pro-US requests, if not outright requirements, but there was nothing in the RFI about Made in US requirements. That might be because it is an RFI and not and RFP.

Since Mexico is "paying for it" maybe buying American is no longer necessary.

Why is this needed exactly? The wall that was promised should take care of illegal crossings. Make it tall enough, electrify it etc. Should be no problem for Trump. 

I see some old teams forming to milk this box sale until their retirement. Someone should rent a booth at ISC and only have an 'Idea Box' located in the middle of it.

What PTZ can see / track / follow objects in complete darkness at 7 miles? I am genuinely curious.

I speculate that many of the responses will try and include a healthy application of drone-based cameras, though I do not see drones as being able to provide 95% overall operational ability.

That motivated me to google 'drones US border'. Found an interesting NYTimes article, quote:

An audit of the drone program, performed by Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General and released last year, suggested that money spent on the drone program could be used better on ground-based sensors and radar towers than on drones, which cost nearly $20 million each and $12,255 an hour to operate.

Homeland Security began using drones for border security in 2005 along the border with Mexico and added missions on the Canadian border in 2008. Customs and Border Protection operates nine drones, three each out of Arizona, Texas and North Dakota. The drones are the size of a small plane and powered by a turboprop engine capable of speeds of up to 275 miles an hour.

Anyone with direct experience on drones for the border?

$12,255/hr to operate? Did someone not tell them the drones are meant to be rechargeable, not disposable?

I don't think they meant the kind of drones you fly from your cellphone.  They meant the kind that have hardpoints for missiles:

This looks like a more basic evolution of the existing and long running border surveillance program. General Dynamics is contractor for the current version. Its primarily an EO/Radar system but likelihood is integration with a range of ground sensors.

Bear in mind that "military grade" contracts like these have little relationship to commercial security requirements or budgets. As another commenter noted, the IR cameras are high end, very expensive FLIR units. There won't be any thought to saving money with the likes of HIKVision, that's basically irrelevant on something like this.

Some years back on a large industrial site along the coast, one of the bidders introduced this hardware, it looked very convincing at the time. Not sure if anyone actually used it.

https://vumii.com/accuracii-xr/

ground radar detection that launches drones to follow and track objects for more details miles away, it's the only thing that comes to mind that is COTS and even that will probably take some development?

The RVSS upgraded system uses FLIR thermal cameras with ground radar.  I think the FLIR thermal cameras have at least 800 mm lenses, maybe larger.

I have fielded FLIR thermal cameras with 600 mm lenses and you can identify a deer at almost 3 miles.  Remarkable.  Not cheap though.

I am curious as to how they will distinguish between 'legal' and 'illegal' border crossings via a camera. I know it is semantics but lets be very clear on how wording is used. Maybe identify border crossings for followup on with ground patrols.

 

From the RFI, it sounds like a major part of the system is to get coordinates to dispatch Border Patrol, or similar, agents to the location of person detected. They do not need to determine legality with the camera alone.

I would think that people crossing the border without going through one of the standard U.S. Customs-operated entry points would have a very high probability of being illegal.

Truly amazing.  From 1999 until 2005, I worked under the IMC contract to put up and deploy all of these RVSS sites.  I believe Boeing took it over, and it does not look like any progress was made putting new sites in this time.

Deployment strategy for these sites was 20 to 30 of these 80 foot poles per sector, usually 0.5 to 1 mile from border, spaced 1-4 miles apart.  7,15 GHZ analog radios, usually 3-30 mile links.  Digital radios (alcatel, harris), from 180 foot relay towers to sector (i was at Brownsville relay site when 9/11 occurred).  Cabinet on pole can get to 150 f and are many times filled with dirt.  Killer bees, hornets, and bats can use poles as homes.  Border Patrol will not maintain these sites, and in most cases, lenses are filthy.  I believe the contract was probably lost when Ashcroft walked into Yuma control, and found half the thermal cameras  not working.  IMC was blamed, even though govt. selected and bought those cameras, and had an inneffective system in place to repair and replace the cooled thermals.  

9/11 was the worst thing that happened to this project.  Right when it was picking up steam, that tragedy brought it to a screeching halt.  Made no sense.  USA had to develop homeland security agency.  For the next couple of years, the poles to be used lay on the ground and millions in equipment sat in storage.

At the time, we were using 1 inch Hitachi and Long range cosmicar lenses.  Thermal were cooled milcam and isap, with also uncooled lockheed 550.  Control system was Betatech.  Poles and towers mainly by Western Towers from texas.  Square poles and platforms by francis (texas billboard company).  Right before I left, we were testing and comparing several thermal versions, including FLIR.  

I criticized the govt. wanting digital off the shelf technology since there is no way it would operate in these temperatures.  Digital radios to the poles are not practical because of site distances.  Analog radios have 4-8 foot dishes and 1-2watt radios.  From what I read, Boeing was using off the shelf technology.  Spacial Diversity had to be used for digital in most cases.

At the time, battery powered sensors were used that reported back to control.

For the north, fiber used in blaine, and microwave for buffalo and swanton. From those numbers, it does not look like anything added since this 2002-2005 period when those were installed.

The lack of progress since 2005 is mind boggling.  I believe the sell price for each pole with dual pedestal cameras was 300k at the time.  I was an Engineer on the project and was as most northern and southern sites (and climbed many poles and towers).

Jeff, thanks for sharing, very helpful! Given your experience there and what you know about newer technology since than, any specific things or tech you would use there now?

Not really.  Battle hardened analog radios.  The LECAs were each assigned several sites to monitor.  Nothing works as well as a human being assessing.  A billion dollars would buy quite a few labor hours.  Cameras were very effective and the thermal cameras functional to 1-2 miles.  Those were about 70k eack at the time, needing 10k in repairs for the coolers every year.  In most cases, 25 percent on each sector was down at any given time.

The biggest problem with an upgrade to digital would be distance.  Doing a link 80 feet off the ground over hot dessert next to Mexico would be difficult.  I assume, though, that maybe they are using digital radios by now, but all of the other digital equipment would have to be military grade operating up to or over 150 F.  The IMC analog radios would never fail.

You are only as good as night abilities.  As far as i know, there is no HD thermal camera, so little reason for IP.  Analog radios have subcarrier channel for other applications including 2 way radio repeaters and sensor detection.

It is great to see Boeing pocket 1 billion, with little to show for it.  The system design out of innovation by the little guy (Tony K, IMC, Conneticut) is still running strong, and 15 years later, the government is looking to upgrade it.  I wonder if Boeing is taking any credit for that well designed and reliable workhorse.

I worked for Yankee Microwave out of Maine.  The story goes that while doing some radio work down south, they were approached by the border patrol who had a connex full of camera and radio parts, but noone could figure out how to install and make it work.. Yankee installed most if those sites at the top of this discussion 1998-2005.  I joined the party in 2001.

How much of the Boeing contract got held in FCC accreditation?

Facial recognition at 7 miles, at night, with COTS. This is typical government expectations that are designed to fail and simultaneously line a large DOD contractor's pocket.

As a San Diego based integrator, we have stayed away from the craziness and the decisions/expectations being made by non-experts.

They could benefit from some real-world consultation from firms that deal with COTS equipment and then align their expectations accordingly IMHO.

 

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