From Border Walls to Mass Shootings: Can Unmanned Security Improve Public Safety?

After a mass shooting attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand left 50 people dead in March, CNN’s national security analyst Juliette Kayyem expressed her concern about a growing radicalization problem in communities around the world—including the U.S. Kayyem advised that mayors nationwide deploy more security to mosques in their cities. The question is, what measures will provide the greatest level of protection in the event of a public emergency?

While the debate over national security in the U.S. has focused in recent months on the southern border, the president’s proposed 2020 budget reflects an increased understanding of the need to invest in technologies that will ensure public safety and security. Drone technology will need to account for some of that investment.

When it comes to allocating public resources, however, Kayyem tells ISC News it is increasingly important that federal agencies develop partnerships with private industry to help ensure public safety in times of crisis in a way that doesn’t compromise privacy and human rights.

Defending the Soft Targets

The budget request for nearly $11 billion in cybersecurity funding reflects the administration’s recognition that investing in technology is a critical part of national security and public safety.

The president has asked for budgetary commitments that will allow the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to fulfill its traditional role of supporting local and state first responders, which Kayyem said is the key to any homeland security effort.

“It has been focused on private sector and critical infrastructure integration, even on issues around election and election security from an operational level,” said Kayyem. In today’s world, though, expecting the unexpected has become a new reality.

Two concerns Kayyem has about the proposed 2020 budget, though, are what she calls ones of omission and ones of over-emphasis.

“The money they are attempting to secure for the wall is money that could be better used on technology and border patrol agents and other important border patrol efforts that have bipartisan consensus,” Kayyem said.

Increasingly concerning is the growth of right wing extremism, and Kayyem said the department needs to be thinking about how communities address the potential for attacks based on radicalized ideology that aim to cause harm to soft targets in our communities. Attacks at synagogues in Pittsburgh last fall and recently in Southern California are examples.

Places of worship are central parts of every community, and these places thrive on openness and accessibility. Adding more physical security around houses of worship makes them feel less like synagogues and mosques, so public safety and security methods must evolve using technology to become less obtrusive while becoming more effective.

“We need to be looking into more efficient systems of crowd control and crowd casting,” said Kayyem. “Drone technologies can find that one person who might have a gun, and tools like ‘Smart 911’ services allow people to input greater information about themselves.”

Do You See What I See?

Beyond the soft-target vulnerabilities in our local communities, unmanned technology can also help to protect national borders in ways that human beings can’t, according to Kayyem.

“Aerial surveillance through drones is going to be absolutely key for the management of non-port-of-entry areas. You simply can’t get transparency you need without situational awareness—an understanding of what areas might actually be penetrated or even overrun by unlawful immigration.”

Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are not without security risks, though. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), “UAS do pose potential risks to air transport due to UAS sightings in communities bordering airport approach and departure paths.

“Additional potential risks were identified from noncompliant operations that would require local analysis to target, and noncompliant operators also pose potential risk to firefighting, law enforcement, and emergency response efforts,” the FAA continued. “In consideration of these potential risks, specific conditions and targeting mechanisms were determined to be the best risk-based approach to expanding UAS surveillance opportunities as part of a broader UAS oversight strategy.”

Still, the goal of defending national borders demands that resources are put where they are most needed based on the vulnerabilities. And, the use of drone technologies for border surveillance, particularly at non-port-of-entry areas, will arguably yield significant cost savings—using technology to get, according to some estimates, the same situational awareness it would take 100 CBP agents to achieve, said Kayyem.

The fusion of intelligences also makes it easier to identify recurring individuals who might be coyotes or smugglers. “We have new technology that are the equivalent of geotrackers so you would know about activity that is not natural and then pinpoint where those vulnerabilities are.”

Convergence of Physical and Cyber for Enhanced Security

As law enforcement and the security industry continue to confront emerging threats, technology will inevitably play a role in helping to improve public safety and security, but as much as innovation promised solutions to security, it also enables malicious actors.

“Drones have been seen and used in order to cross narcotics and also look for agents doing their job,” a U.S. border patrol agent, Hermann Rivera, told local Rio Grande Valley TV station CBS 4 News.

Social media is a powerful tool that enables communication and empowers individuals, but these platforms are also used in both radicalization and amplifying attacks immediately after they occur. Part of investing in cybersecurity education and training means addressing social mores that have evolved because of technology.

A layered approach to security encompasses all aspects of safety, which extends far beyond prevention. As the digital and physical worlds become more intertwined, it will become even more critical to develop and test incident response plans that will ensure public safety in the aftermath of disruptions in technology, natural or man-made disasters.

In the best case scenario, the technology can even prevent these large scale attacks. At the very least, the use of unmanned security and advanced technologies can drastically minimize the threats we face after something has happened. What’s important, though, is that we see technology not as just a replacement of other physical security needs or as the total solution. When it comes to public safety and security, the use of technology is a way of describing a single part of a layered defense system.

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Article Written by Kacy Zurkus | View all articles by Kacy Zurkus