Home Features Protecting National Borders: The New Generation of Motion Detection Technology

Protecting National Borders: The New Generation of Motion Detection Technology

by Brian Sims

The current refugee crisis remains a hot topic. It’s one that reverberates across so many aspects of politics, commerce and everyday life. Recent figures issued by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) suggest that there are now 68.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, with 25.4 million refugees and 3.1 million asylum-seekers among them. The numbers have never been as large and are creating considerable economic and political challenges in many regions, with border control operations under immense pressures to control the flow of both people and goods. Risk Xtra searches for a solution.

The issues involved here are global, with huge transit populations pressuring borders as widespread as India, Bangladesh and Burma in South Asia, several war-ravaged countries in Central and East Africa and in North and Central America (not just on the Mexican-US border, either, but also on the Guatemala-Mexico border as well). The individuals and families involved are escaping both economic collapse and/or political repression.

Equally, many of us are aware of (and, indeed, sensitive to) the millions of refugees trying to cross into mainland Europe from the Middle East and Africa, subsequently exerting pressure on the borders of Spain, Italy and Greece (along with those of other adjacent countries).

Sources estimate that there were over 110,000 detected illegal crossings made into Europe during the first nine months of this year (although, and understandably so, there are no figures available for the number of undetected crossings). These numbers also contribute to the thousands of would-be illegal immigrants trying to cross into the UK. The high-profile unrest among those migrants, which was broadcast on TV screens a few years ago, is no longer evident, but the number of attempted clandestine crossings through the UK borders is still extremely high. It’s an occurrence that, most definitely, hasn’t gone away.

Managing borders: unique logistical challenges

Management of borders presents unique logistical challenges, balancing the need to enforce high levels of security while enabling the flow of traffic (both goods and people) to progress through border zones at reasonable speeds. Many of Europe’s border crossings are some of the busiest sea ports, rail terminals and highways anywhere in the world, with thousands of vehicles crossing each way and those crossings often occurring on a non-stop, 24-7 basis.

Additionally, many of the European border areas, and particularly so the sea ports, date back hundreds of years. The infrastructures may be outdated and the available space might also be limited, while buildings along with road and rail surfaces have to be constantly maintained and upgraded. The geographic locations are also typically exposed to harsh weather conditions.

All of these factors add to the logistical challenge confronting Border Force agencies across Europe.

Inside the tens of thousands of vehicles crossing the borders, there will often be clandestines hidden away, desperate to evade the security checks. The detection options available to the Border Force agencies are limited, particularly so if they are to maintain a reasonable flow of traffic. The latter goal is far from easy when you consider that, ideally, every truck has to be searched thoroughly. In order to appreciate the immensity of this challenge, stand next to a typical 44-tonne articulated vehicle (it will measure 16.5 metres long, 2.55 metres wide and 4.2 metres high). Then consider how many boxes, pallets and crates could be packed inside.

The sheer scale of the vehicles underlines the difficulty, if not near-impossibility, of manually searching each truck. A thorough manual search would require two-to-three people (along with a fork lift truck) to ensure proper access through the interior of the vehicle. If every crate and box is to be checked, this could take at least an hour. The reality is that the required manpower and time is simply not available. Even if it were, how reliable would the search be?

Another key consideration for any search is the desperation, determination and ingenuity of the hidden clandestines. Many have survived life-threatening journeys and will take huge risks by hiding away in cramped conditions and hugely uncomfortable positions, often with limited air at their disposal (which sometimes has fatal consequences). Equally, with organised crime gangs now involved in human trafficking, the clandestines may have their own intelligence and know-how to evade detection (such as using different scents in order to deter trained sniffer dogs).

Looking for a technology solution

Different technology types have been tried, albeit with limited success. For example, ‘sniffer’ technology cannot be deployed on all types of large vehicles. X-Ray technology is also limited to being deployed only on certain types of trucks, in addition to the fact that there are Health and Safety concerns for both the operator and any hidden clandestines.

Of late, Motion Detection Technology has proven to be a far more suitable solution for Border Force agencies. That’s in contrast to early forms of this technology that were first introduced and deployed several years ago, but with very limited success. The earlier generation of systems wasn’t able to operate effectively in the port environment. The openness and exposure of these locations, added to the constant stream of noise and disturbances, realised unreliable search results.

It’s important to understand that the new generation of Motion Detection Technology has been specifically designed for these operational environments and provides many crucial benefits for the Border Force agencies. One particular system developed by ClanTect, for instance, is able to operate effectively regardless of any noise disturbances, such as passing traffic, roadworks or nearby turbines and engines. The system also makes a significant contribution to the flow of traffic by being able to execute searches on multiple vehicles at the same time.

The system is also easy and quick to operate. Technical skills and intensive training are not required. Sensors are attached to the frame of the vehicle. It’s a process which literally takes seconds. The operator then presses a button and the system automatically executes an ‘electronic search’ of the vehicle. The system is highly accurate and will detect any presence, human or animal, within the vehicle under scrutiny.

Of vital importance is the fact that this latest technology is also built to operate on a 24-basis. Many port operations run on multiple shifts, so the performance and reliability of any deployed system has to be in synchronicity with these requirements. To achieve this, the latest solutions offer a self-testing module for the all-important sensors. Any operational issues can be instantly alerted, diagnosed online and resolved with minimum downtime, which is absolutely critical at such busy locations.

More streamlined management

The new generation of Motion Detection Technology solutions, then, is adding a more streamlined and co-ordinated approach to the management of border control operations. Having secure online communications between remote terminals and the operational Control Centre really does represent an enormous step forward in the exchange and updating of data, and particularly so when you consider the potentially widespread deployment of terminals across multiple countries and regions.

As a result of technological evolution, the new generation of Motion Detection Technology is being successfully deployed in different types of border crossings and on multiple types of vehicles. What’s more, it’s proving to be a truly key component when it comes to maintaining the integrity of Europe’s borders.

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