TALLADEGA -- The security of the United States’ southern border has dominated the recent national discussion, but one possible result of that debate may have major repercussions for Talladega.
Elbit Systems of America, which has a facility in Talladega, has “developed and, more importantly, fielded dozens of border security products for U.S. Customs and Border Protection,” according to Communications Manager Ken Roberts.
Elbit Vice President of Homeland Security Solutions Gordon Kesting explained that the primary system is known as an Integrated Fixed Tower.
“There are 55 towers right now along the border in Arizona,” he said. “Each one is 80 to 100 feet tall and equipped with radar and cameras that provide situational awareness of activities along the border.
“The radar will pick something up, then we use the cameras to determine if what the radar picked up is people, animals or vehicles. If they are people, are they carrying backpacks, which could indicate that they’re moving drugs, or do they have weapons, which obviously is a higher threat.”
The towers themselves are unmanned and tend to be placed in remote locations. Information gathered by the radar and remote operated cameras is then sent back to command and control centers, where agents can communicate the information to their colleagues in the field, Kesting explained.
As the border security debate continues, Kesting said, “CBP is already asking about towers in New Mexico, California and Texas. Right now, most of the work is being done in Fort Worth, Texas, but if the program does expand, there will be opportunities for Talladega to be involved in repair and support operations.”
And he is optimistic that the program will be expanded.
“The towers work well with physical barriers, and the Border Patrol’s strategy is to use both in a layered approach,” Kesting said. “Barriers slow down movement, especially in urban areas, where people can just melt in. The towers are used in more remote areas, where you have longer to respond. They help with situational awareness in the areas around the barriers.”
Elbit Systems was first awarded the contract for the towers in February 2014. Not all of the towers went up at the same time but were deployed in different areas at different times.
Currently, all the towers are up and running 24 hours per day, seven days per week, about 98 percent of the time.
“We feel like we’ve got some good leverage on this going forward, with what we’ve done to date and with our ability to roll out quickly,” Kesting said. “Also, the system was actually purchased for about 75 percent less than what CBP thought they were going to have to pay, so it’s cost effective, too.”
The original contract was for $145 million.
The towers also went through rigorous testing and met stringent cyber-security requirements before being deployed, and since then, enhancements have been made based on operator suggestions, he continued.
“We’ve made the human/machine interface easier to use and we’ve integrated information from sensors in other locations,” Kesting said. “We’re also adapting the technology for a mobile format, so that surveillance vehicles in the area could use the same software and so users can move from fixed to mobile formats easily.”
Artificial intelligence and other analytic systems are also in the works.
Elbit Systems of America employs about 1,500 people and does about $1 billion in business per year. Of the 1,500, 145 are employed at the Talladega facility, formerly International Enterprises Inc. in Brecon.