“Securing and managing the border is an enormous task requiring collaboration from federal, state, local and international law enforcement, as well as public-private partnership,” said Paul Mackler, president and CEO of Eagle Eye Expositions. Mackler’s company produced the annual Border Security Expo, which took place mid-March in Phoenix.

This two-day event brought together 72 different law enforcement agencies from around the world to interact with the largest exhibition of border security products and technology. Such innovations are making a big difference in current U.S. Border Patrol operations, as well as impacting future training and budgets.

Technology eases growing demand for border agents
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) wants to enhance its operations along the Mexican border using drones to monitor more remote locations while agents patrol areas with the heaviest traffic. This fits with CBP chief Michael J. Fisher’s strategy to shrink the border by assigning a dense array of human agents to cover 900 miles and leaving the remaining 55 percent to the unmanned aerial systems.

“Some would suggest that you have to seal the border 100 percent, in which case we’re going to need thousands and thousands more pieces of equipment,” Fisher told The New York Times. “Even if our budgets could sustain it, which I suspect they cannot, we had to come up with an alternative plan this year.”

Border Patrol has already started using a few drones to watch the southern U.S. border. In March, Predator drones started flying over areas deemed too rugged for people to cross. Should they detect any movement or human activity, the drones alert CBP teams to survey the scene and determine if a breach occurred or if medical care is needed.

Investment in technology requires great foresight
These drones are being used in a manner similar to what the CBP predicted years ago. The Police Chief magazine notes that resources like remote and mobile surveillance systems were on the organization’s radar for years. Plans originally called for cameras to be affixed to 80-foot poles, transmitting views of remote border sections. Towers attached to flatbed trucks were mobile but limited in their capabilities. Unmanned drones offer similar benefits, but add greater versatility.

It takes time to expand capabilities through technology. Elbit Systems, an Israeli company that constructs high-tech surveillance systems, was awarded a contract to attempt to enhance the U.S. border security. According to Homeland Security News Wire, the project will last 10 years and could cost as much as $700 million. However, since past initiatives with similar goals failed, the Government Accountability Office suggested the CBP increase oversight of their contractors and expand the testing of new surveillance tools.

Advanced technology can also be employed in ways to help Border Patrol agents in the field. The CBP is considering equipping agents with body-worn video cameras, which would provide additional information in the event of an altercation. According to Fierce Homeland Security, there are several obstacles preventing the adoption of these devices. The wearable tech must be able to function in a variety of weather conditions—for both the Mexican and Canadian borders—and address privacy concerns regarding potential victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. Border Patrol hopes that these devices will protect agents involved in use-of-force incidents by providing them with another layer of documentation.

In the future, these innovations may play a greater role in the day-to-day tasks of Border Patrol, as well as other federal agencies. As technology continues to evolve, new security resources will allow the CBP to better protect the country without sacrificing the safety of its workers.

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