With the threat of terrorism continuing to cast shadows over airports, seaports and border crossings, the United States will require better physical security technology in 2005, according to some analysts. For vendors, homeland security opportunities loom large in areas ranging from “smart containers” to gamma rays and specialized gadgets for finding bombs and biological weapons.
“Progress has been made, but the road to securing the U.S. homeland is a long one,” said Matthew Farr, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan, during a Webcast last week.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security carries a base yearly budget of $38.82 billion, with stated priorities that include explosives detection and countermeasures for both bio and chemical weapons, along with “information assurance, first responders and integration,” according Farr.
Other federal agencies spending money on anti-terrorist technology include the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and the U.S. Coast Guard, Farr said later, in an interview with eWEEK.com.
Still, though, U.S. airports are screening only checked luggage for explosives. Conversely, “people, cargo and carry-on luggage” remain unscreened. “Cargo screening has undergone initial tests with some promising results. However, cost and—more importantly—speed have not yet reached the [point of] full market acceptance,” he said.
A technology dubbed X-ray “back scatter” is starting to show “great promise for cargo, van and truck [explosives] screening,” Farr said, describing the technology as “a very high-powered—and yet safe—form of X-rays.”
But Farr also suggested that explosives screening might not be as important at border crossings as airports. Importing bomb materials is more “risky and expensive” than buying these goods in the United States, he said.
Meanwhile, explosives screening technology for airline passengers could take a long time to evolve, Farr indicated. “People dont like to be patted down. This is causing problems for airlines,” he said.
Yet on the other hand, passengers aversion to security pat-downs is “creating market potential for portals that screen passengers for explosives,” according to the Frost & Sullivan analyst.
Protecting seaports from terrorist activity is paramount, too, said Noha Tohamy, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., during an interview with eWEEK.com. About 80 percent of all global freight is transported over the ocean, Tohamy said.
“Experts believe that a combination of low-cost, high-speed gamma ray inspection and high-accuracy X-ray inspection systems at U.S. ports can allow the verification of most incoming shipments,” the Forrester analyst wrote in a recent report called “Are Our Supply Chains Less Vulnerable Now?”
Farr told eWEEK.com that so-called smart containers carry much potential for protecting the United States against the introduction of weapons of mass destruction through the supply chain.
“A smart container is a container that is locked, but that will notify someone if its opened,” according to Farr.
“Theres going to be a big push this year for smart containers, especially those that are integrated with biological, radiological and nuclear sensors,” he said.
Also according to Farr, theres plenty of room in the homeland security technology arena for small and innovative companies, even though the market tends to be dominated by big players.
“The homeland security market rewards companies that produce innovative technology with large procurement contracts and substantial subcontracting work. The government, however, continues to rely on large, well-established companies as lead integrators,” he said.
During the Webcast, Farr advised these small innovators looking for government work to create partnerships with other players—particularly with giants, where possible.
Although government funds are available for homeland defense technology, is enough money being earmarked? These analysts dont believe so.
The U.S. government should “invest in technology that makes full inspection feasible,” according to Tohamy. “With the advancement of detection technologies, it is feasible to inspect each shipment without impacting processing speed.”
A test of vehicle-mounted gamma ray technology at the port of Seattle, conducted through Operation Safe Commerce, represented a good start, she said.
But “the government must move beyond pilots [and] help fund wide deployments of these systems across all ports,” according to Tohamy.
“Im always of the school of thought that we dont spend enough,” Farr concurred. “Current levels of spending [on homeland security] are low, especially in comparison to the Department of Defense.”
Also in the Forrester report, Tohamy made a number of other recommendations for guarding the nations supply chain. The analyst urged the government to define a mix of mandatory and voluntary security guidelines for the private sector, and to give compliant companies “tangible rewards.”
Tohamy told eWEEK.com that SMBs (small to medium-sized businesses) are generally less likely than large enterprises to comply with voluntary programs such as the U.S. governments Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) and Free and Secure Trade (FAST).
Under C-TPAT, importers are allowed to conduct self-assessments of their supply chain security. After reviewing a companys self-assessment, U.S. Customs certifies the importer as C-TPAT-compliant, if satisfied, and the freight is designated as low risk.
In FAST, compliant importers and carriers enjoy expedited border processing, with fewer freight inspections.
According to Tohamy, the government should encourage SMBs to participate in these programs by quantifying the benefits that can be achieved, such as better productivity, or by providing financial incentives.
But Farr advised government caution in mandating security programs and technology in the private sector. “Certainly, some security should be mandated, such as at chemical plants. But this country is just too large and complex for there to be that many mandates. You cant fortify everything—so you have to pick your battles,” Farr told eWEEK.com.
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