Preventing illegal movement across the border between the United States and Mexico means building a big fence. Maintaining a border that is primarily water is a bit trickier.
“Michigan has a unique border. It’s mostly water, which creates a lot of unique circumstances,” said Barry Cargill, executive director of the Michigan Homeland Security Consortium. “We have only a few bridges and ports of entry, and the rest is a border of water. In some cases, it’s a river; in other cases, it’s Lake Saint Clair or Lake Huron, Lake Superior. How do you protect that border?”
In the past, protecting the northern border of Michigan was not a major concern, said Cargill. Now, however, the Department of Homeland Security is working to change that.
“What the Department of Homeland Security is looking for is new technologies that would be able to help in securing that border,” said Cargill. “How do you determine if someone is fishing for walleye or if someone is transporting illegal immigrants— or a worse scenario, of course, is terrorists entering the country. They’re looking for the technology that will not make it labor intensive.”
Keith Brophy, vice president of RCM Technologies, knows something about the type of technology of which Cargill speaks. The first part of Brophy’s career was spent working on submarine sonar systems for IBM Federal Systems.
“With the stimulus money flowing now, the challenge likely remains the same as the challenge for the last half-decade or so,” said Brophy. “Our nation has a growing need for homeland security technology solutions — a growing appetite for those.”
But Brophy said it has been difficult for entrepreneurs to take an idea and commercialize it in the defense industry.
“I think the biggest offshoot of the stimulus package and where we are with homeland security needs is, you’ll continue to see these strong, smart companies moving into or advancing into that space,” he said.
While it’s difficult to project what types of new technology will be key in providing homeland security, Brophy pointed to monitoring systems as one form that is emerging.
“The consumption side is a bit shadowy … but it does appear there is very strong activity in everything related to monitors: video monitors, sensors that key into environment conditions — the whole range of monitor and sensory technology.
“The other big boom area is business-intelligence solutions that take data about people and their comings and goings — their trends — and sometimes coupling it with these monitoring systems, and do analysis and correlating and then roll up presentation of that data.”
The U.S. government is planning to build a $30 million border center at the Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Mt. Clemens to protect the Canadian-Michigan border. While it is no small investment, it is still a small step in terms of the level of investment needed to provide the proper technology.
“I think (the base) provides the early seeds and watering can of (innovation in monitoring the Great Lakes). To do it comprehensively would be many, many times more expensive than that $30 million dollars,” he said. “The technologies you need to do that well … it’s a massive amount of technology, but I see it more as a start. It highlights attention and innovation, and ideas will follow.”