Support: November 7, 2002

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After September 11, 2001, the U.S. Air Force realized that it was extremely vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Air bases cover large areas, often hundreds of acres and typically contain aircraft and equipment worth over a billion dollars. Protection from terrorist attacks was not a high priority, particularly suicide terrorists. Thousands of reservists were called up so security could be increased. At the same time, the air force was opening up new air bases in Central Asia and the Persian Gulf. The short term solution was to work the security people harder, with many people working 12 hour shifts, seven days a week. Sending reservists overseas was also not popular. So the air force is turning to technology. The air force has long been using electronic surveillance gear, and the current shortage of security personnel is forcing the use of even more surveillance cameras, motion sensors and image recognition systems. The air force is not giving out details on this stuff, as this would make it easier for someone to get past it. The most modern electronic systems don't depend on someone to keep looking a lot of TV sets showing what the cameras are pointed at. Instead, the cameras, motion detectors, acoustic (listening to sounds) and seismic (measuring sound moving through the ground) sensors all send what they detect to a computer program. The software has a library of what various type of people, animals and vehicles show up as to all the sensors. This enables a handful of security personnel to monitor sensors covering many square miles, with the software alerting the human monitors to what kind of trespasser is out there (especially at night or in bad weather). A backup force of armed security personnel are still on standby to deal with real intruders, and many more air force personnel with weapons training are on call if there is a major attack. But the deadly dull chore of just watching several miles of landing strip, plus hangers and perimeter fences is largely taken over by machines. The air force has been moving more in this direction for years, but now they have the money and the need to proceed at a faster clip in deploying the new technology. Most of this stuff is commercial stuff, as non-military organizations are much bigger users than the air force will ever be. Because of that, the air force will also have to hire civilians with experience in this surveillance technology in order to get it installed and operating effectively as soon as possible.

 


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