It was a mainstay of the 2016 Presidential election — then-candidate Donald Trump's promise to build a "big, beautiful wall." Logistically speaking, it turns out there may not be a need for nigh on 2,000 miles of concrete adorned with gold leaf, mirrors, and faux Greek architecture in Trump's signature style. Nelson Balido, chairman of the Border Commerce and Security Council and former member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, broke down the realities of the current border system in an article for The Hill.
Rebar and concrete have their limitations. Makers of 19-foot ladders can always foil builders of 18-foot walls.
Regardless of height, a physical wall can serve only to delay anyone sufficiently determined to cross the border illegally, and the delay is only purposeful if a border patrol agent is on the other side to intercept. With a border reaching 1,954 miles, it's unfeasible for U.S. Border Patrol agents to monitor every stretch of it.
That's where cameras and sensors come in, but despite the vast electronic array, the systems provide agents with limited information. Ground sensors can't distinguish the difference between drug smugglers and wandering cows. Motion sensing cameras are similarly limited and are further reliant on human attention.
Officials I speak with at the border say that 99.9 percent of suspicious activity picked up by cameras turns out to be false alarms. While such sensors can alert agents to something crossing the border, it gives them no idea of exactly what passed over it, how many are in a group, or where the culprits are heading.
In response to the system's shortfalls, the House Homeland Security Committee passed a $10 billion border security bill last week, with language that emphasized the need for technological supplements to physical walls.
The bill from Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) states that a physical wall should be built only "where practical and effective." It also includes sensible suggestions by Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), the member with the largest border district in Congress, that the wall infrastructure should include the deployment of radar, light detection and ranging (LIDAR) technology and other sensors.
Light detection and ranging (LIDAR) is the same technology being used in self-driving cars. Instead of radio waves, LIDAR uses lasers to construct a three dimensional image from which a computer can then make informed determinations.
The system would only alert agents when it detects a genuine threat, as opposed to Peter Cottontail hopping along.
Along with providing agents with real-time, actionable information, a virtual array would also circumvent eminent domain issues, one of the current biggest stumbling blocks in building a physical wall. And the cost per mile estimates for LIDAR is around $500,000, whereas a physical wall might cost as much as $27 million per mile.
We need to look at all options, both physical and virtual, for improving border security. But a core part of the solution should be technology that helps save lives by giving our border agents all the information needed to properly respond to threats in the shortest amount of time.
H/T - The Hill