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Posts Tagged ‘Department of Homeland Security

Hollywood Technology for Police Training? Real-life Trainees Use Virtual Simulations

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FBI Hostage Rescue training from helicopter.

FBI Hostage Rescue training from helicopter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to a 29 May 2012 article in Homeland Security Newswire, some of the technology which makes the movie worlds of “Lord of the Rings” and “The Avengers” so realistic is now available to help law enforcement officers train for hazardous situations.  Raytheon’s motion-capture method allows trainees to interact with live people or with avatars, all in a 360-degree virtual environment.

Homeland Security Newswire explains how the technology works:

The system works with reflective markers placed on users’ bodies that track their movements along a basketball court-sized “field.” Wearing lightweight goggles, participants are completely immersed in a highly realistic virtual scenario, such as a hostage rescue or a variety of other incidents.

The goal is to re-create on-the-job, realistic challenges so that officers can be better prepared and equipped to deal with them.

It’s easy to imagine how this kind of training environment could let homeland security officers practice essential skills for high-stakes incidents.  Terrorist hostage-taking, bombs and booby traps, and WMD incidents are hard to prepare for, because realistic training situations are traditionally difficult to create or even dangerous.   With Raytheon’s VIRTSIM training system, officers may be able to try out their skills in a realistic, yet safe, virtual environment.

What do you think of game-type simulations as a way to practice HS skills?  What are some potential downsides of these training methods?

Written by Homeland Security

June 6, 2012 at 17:17

A “Pre-crime” System?

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Is it possible to detect terrorists or criminals before they strike? That’s the premise of science-fiction films like Minority Report, but the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is already experimenting with a “pre-crime” system it calls Future Attribute Screening Technology, or FAST. In an October 7, 2011, article, CNET News writer Declan McCullagh explores what FAST is intended to achieve.

Instead of relying on psychics to predict who will commit a dangerous act, FAST is designed to collect data surreptitiously on a subject’s heart rate, breathing, voice patterns, eye movements, ethnicity, occupation and gender. Algorithms will then determine which individuals may have malicious intent.

So far, FAST is still in the testing phase. In addition to testing on DHS employees who volunteered for the program, a field test was conducted in one northeastern US venue. How would it be used? DHS has suggested that FAST may be deployed at airports, but it might also be used at border crossings or public events where large crowds are present.

How about the science behind FAST? There’s no way to conclusively detect someone’s criminal or terrorist inclinations; that idea went out with phrenology in the 19th century. However, biological signs can betray a person’s anxiety, and someone who is about to commit a terrorist attack is likely to be under stress.

One problem is that while symptoms like an elevated heart rate or changes in voice patterns may indicate anxiety, they don’t offer insight into the cause of the anxiety. Someone displaying these symptoms may simply be nervous about missing a flight, or may be stressed at a sporting stadium because of misplaced car keys or even an adverse referee’s call.

There’s a parallel with “lie detectors.” Polygraph equipment can’t look into someone’s mind and determine that he is lying. All it can do is reveal biological symptoms which are associated with the anxiety or stress. Since stress accompanies deception for most psychologically normal people, it can indicate areas for questioning for investigators.

Because FAST won’t be able to “detect terrorists” in a simplistic and certain manner, we as Homeland Security professionals will need to consider how technologies like this should be used. There are clear privacy implications: how would collecting data from crowds of people square with the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures?  If a system like FAST does point out an individual with a suspicious profile, how should law enforcement or transportation security officers proceed?  Would it be sufficient grounds for probable cause, leading to further action?

Recommended Reading: Homeland Security Remains an Agency in Progress (Brian Naylor, National Public Radio Weekend Edition, September 11, 2011)

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Recommended reading: Homeland Security Remains an Agency in Progress (Brian Naylor, National Public Radio Weekend Edition, September 11, 2011) Link: http://www.npr.org/2011/09/11/140367706/homeland-security-remains-an-agency-in-progress

NPR’s Brian Naylor presented an interesting discussion of the status of the Department of Homeland Security as of September 11, 2011. Ten years after 9/11, DHS has overcome many of the growing pains involved in building a vast agency out of 22 separate entities, and it is working to solve the vulnerabilities and faults identified in the 9/11 Commission Report.

The article reflects several challenges DHS is facing. One is the need to spend money carefully. Another is the Department’s balance between terrorism response and management of other kinds of disasters. The public often thinks of DHS in terms of terrorism, such as the old color-coded alert system, yet much of its work is on an “all-hazards” basis: it’s preparing for natural disasters, accidental chemical releases, etc., as well as terrorist attacks. Naylor quotes one academic who believes DHS should reduce its spending on terrorist preparations and focus on risks which happen with more frequency.

Steven Flynn, a member of the 9/11 Commission, says in the article that there’s also a need to focus more on resilience– bouncing back from disasters, since they can’t always be prevented. Flynn doesn’t say that prevention is no longer worth DHS time and resources, but his statement may represent a new way of looking at disasters.

What do you think?