The Homeland Security Department has begun the process of contracting to replace the border security network it scrapped last week, by issuing a request for information on interconnected surveillance towers, department officials said on Wednesday.
The market research is part of the department's new plan to acquire proven, ready-made technology tailored to the terrain of each border region, as opposed to the now-defunct $1 billion Secure Border Initiative network. The SBInet program ran into cost, schedule and performance problems in an unsuccessful attempt to install a one-size-fits-all virtual fence composed of monitoring devices, intelligence databases and communication links.
Depending on budget decisions, a formal request for bids on the project might be issued late this fiscal year, with contracts awarded several months after that, DHS spokesman Matthew Chandler said.
The RFI for so-called integrated fixed towers, which was posted Tuesday on the contracting bulletin board FedBizOpps, asks vendors for comments on market conditions and scientific advances to help shape "an acquisition strategy for technology solutions that detect, track, identify and classify illegal incursions." The technology is intended to provide border agents with a full view of activity between ports of entry to stop drug smuggling, illegal immigration and terrorist-related activities. Comments are due Feb. 8.
"The RFI approach is one tool available to us to involve industry at an early stage in our process," Chandler said.
Department officials will start procuring stand-alone tower parts this fiscal year, Chandler added. He said the decision to move ahead with the non-integrated tower elements was based on the priorities of DHS' Customs and Border Protection bureau.
DHS is looking for tools that will offer automatic, continuous wide-area surveillance that are largely open, or not tied to any one brand's proprietary technology, according to Tuesday's notice. Contracting officers envision a system consisting of several towers, where each one is equipped with a suite of sensors for constant surveillance; supporting power; and communications.
The applications will instantly identify humans, animals, vehicles and other suspicious items, as well as provide agents with video to inspect the scene manually for backpackers or people carrying certain weapons. The video will enable border personnel "to classify the threat in terms of group size, whether they are migrant workers, smugglers, etc, and whether they are armed," the RFI states.
The system will display the precise location, speed and direction of suspicious activity, according to the notice. The technology also will draw from pre-existing data feeds that were launched during the SBInet program. The tower equipment and network connectivity must withstand extreme weather conditions and harsh environments, such as the Arizona deserts and mountains where DHS initially had begun deploying SBInet.
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