Company producing technology to monitor Arizona-Mexico border

Apr 12, 2019, 4:45 AM
(KTAR News Photo/Griselda Zetino)...
(KTAR News Photo/Griselda Zetino)
(KTAR News Photo/Griselda Zetino)

PHOENIX — As President Donald Trump continues to call for more border security, one technology company says it can help.

Elbit Systems of America, based in Forth Worth, Texas, has developed numerous surveillance technologies, some of which are being used by Border Patrol agents along Arizona’s border with Mexico.

The company is also testing new technology at a facility in Marana where KTAR News 92.3 FM was given a firsthand look this week.

Joel Friederich, the company’s vice president of public safety and homeland security systems, said they’ve been contracting with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol since 2014. Their integrated fixed towers are among the technologies currently being used by border agents.

The towers range from 80 to 120 feet tall and have advanced radars, cameras and sensors mounted on them to detect activity. A total of 55 of these towers are deployed across 200 miles covering Arizona’s border with Mexico.

“All of the data that this system collects – radar data and camera data – goes back to a command and control center where CBP operators are able to look at their air of responsibility to have full situational awareness of what’s going on,” Friederich said.

Elbit Systems of America has set up five command and control centers for border agents. They’re located in Tucson, Nogales, Douglas, Sonoita, and Ajo. Each one operates up to 12 towers.

The company has developed towers that can easily be relocated, minimizing the impact they have on the environment. They’re placed on large concrete blocks, and Border Patrol can choose to mount various technologies, including radars and cameras.

The company has also created 6-foot autonomous drones with preprogrammed flight paths that have been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly beyond visual line of sight. Border Patrol agents could potentially use them to surveil difficult-to-reach areas and to look for breaches along border walls.

Both of these technologies are being tested in the Marana facility and are not yet being used by CBP.

Bobby Brown, the company’s senior director of customs and border protection, said a truck with a mounted surveillance system is another technology they’ve rolled out.

The truck has a 33-foot tower that assembles itself in three minutes. It has cameras and radars on top that have the ability to pick up objects within a six-mile radius.

“It’s not like it’s a vague little image,” Brown said. “You can actually see, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s a man, that’s a lady, that individual has a backpack on, those individuals have long weapons.’ You really can detect and discern what people have and what’s going on.”

In recent days, Trump has doubled down on his call for more border wall construction to ramp up security. Last week the president said he expects hundreds of miles of border wall will be completed before the end of next year.

Friederich said while it makes sense to have a physical barrier, technologies like the ones his company offers are needed to fully secure the border.

“Physical barrier will get breached, will get crawled over, and will get crawled under at some point,” he said.

“So we see that the technology is complimentary to any infrastructure that’s along the border in order to give you that layered approach.”

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Company producing technology to monitor Arizona-Mexico border