THE MAGAZINE

Looking Ahead: Disaster Response

By Matthew Harwood

In your observe-and-report training roles, have you been able to bring cutting-edge technologies to the border to enhance security?

Yes. One area is tunnel detection. Tunnels are a growing threat, primarily along the Southwest border. There have been great efforts within the DoD over the last 10 to 15 years to improve tunnel detection for Afghanistan, Korea, and other regions. Through a number of agreements with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), tunnel detection technology is being employed on the border.

Another is the use of aerial platforms, manned and unmanned. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Air and Marine has its own fleet of Predator drones, but they also use DoD unmanned systems, which are integrated into their system. We’ve done a lot of good work assisting them in building a network behind those platforms.

It’s one thing to fly a Predator and see and be able to track smugglers or drug traffickers, but it’s how that information gets catalogued and into the hands of someone who can do something with it that’s important.

 

When people think of drones, they think of flying, killing robots. But that’s only one application. What do you think is the future of drones for homeland security and disaster preparedness and response?

During the 2007 California wild fires, I was amazed to see the California Emergency Management Agency and Cal Fire—the statewide fire service—put together a sophisticated unmanned aerial system network, using a variety of aircraft and techniques. From incorporating DoD’s Global Hawk high-flying UAV, to Civil Air Patrol single engine Cessna aircraft, California officials wove together a network that allowed fire chiefs to find out where the fire was going. They could determine where small fires were starting and get that information to on-the-ground incident commanders who could then adjust their forces. It was the most remarkable thing I’ve seen. I’ve seen our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and how the military uses many systems, including human intelligence on the ground as well as these high-tech aerial platforms, and it looked just like that in California.

What kind of threat do Mexican organized crime organizations present to the United States?

The first and foremost threat is just the ruthlessness and violence. Transnational criminal organizations are in business, and they will protect their illicit business any way they can. We’ve seen some very terrifying tactics being used by these groups. That’s the threat to the average citizen that really scares everyone. But the longer term threat is some kind of accommodation between these criminal organizations and other transnational terrorist groups. We have not seen a large-scale connection between those elements, largely because it’s currently perceived as “bad for business” for the cartels. But at the end of the day, there is no telling what they will do for the highest bidder.

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