PNNL, Homeland Security team up for surveillance project

By John Trumbo, Herald staff writerSeptember 17, 2008 

Can high-tech infrared cameras and millimeter-wave cameras "see" terrorist threats coming from as far as 130 yards away?

Kennewick police and Hanford Patrol officers will test the effectiveness of the high-tech gear in a six-week tryout at the Toyota Center.

The experiment, which goes live Sept. 26 for six home games of the Tri-City Americans, will help the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate determine if the technologies are effective in the hands of local law enforcement.

The equipment, which consists of remote camera sensors that can track crowd movements, uses infrared and millimeter-wave radar to analyze images for potential explosive threats, said Jim Tuttle, explosives division director for Homeland Security.

"(The test) will help us improve standoff screening capability for our security systems," Tuttle said.

A series of cameras, some roof-mounted at the Toyota Center, and others that include infrared and millimeter-wave radar imaging, will watch the parking lots and various pedestrian approaches to the center.

"They will analyze for subtle changes, such as people forming in groups or loitering," said Nick Lombardo of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, project manager for the field test.

The cameras' images will help analysts located nearby look for left-behind bombs, suspicious backpacks or concealed objects such as suicide belts and vests, Lombardo said.

Rollout of the high-tech gear was demonstrated at the center for news media Tuesday by representatives of the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate.

Kennewick police and Hanford Patrol officers have spent a week learning to use the visual analytics system. They must learn to read the images well enough to spot a suspicious situation within seconds, said Kennewick Officer John Davis, one of the officers learning the system.

The tests will have people wearing simulated threat objects enter the surveillance area to see how quickly officers can detect the problem. Davis said he can pick out a mock threat within two seconds, but expects it will be much harder when the tests involve moving crowds.

"The purpose is to detect the threat at a distance," Tuttle said. It is relatively easy with few people and a clear view, but not so when people crowd together, he said.

Lombardo said the officers can direct the cameras and zoom in with millimeter-wave radar when the infrared indicates something suspicious.

"We want to know how many people can be tracked simultaneously," Lombardo said. That will be when the Americans have a sell-out game, he said.

Out of 20 or 30 situations, with only one being a mock threat, the goal is to see how often and how fast an operator can get it right.

"We train them to look for certain signatures," Lombardo said.

John Verrico of Homeland Security said the test at Toyota Center is the first roll-out in the nation of the integrated systems.

The tests at the Toyota Center will be announced to those who attend events at the center between Sept. 26 and Nov. 9 so they can opt out of the scanning if they choose.

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