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A deadly game
Playing hide and seek with terrorists increases public procurement load

by Richard Bray

The September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States brought a sense of wartime urgency to public sector spending in Canada. Across the country, strategic facilities like power plants and telecommunications systems need to be “hardened” against possible attacks. Meanwhile, Canadian soldiers (www.dnd.ca) in Afghanistan are at the end of a supply chain that stretches halfway around the world.

The Supply Operations Services Branch at Public Works and Government Services Canada (www.pwgsc.gc.ca) quickly began expediting public security and anti-terrorism purchasing by establishing 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week service for emergency or national security procurements. While emergency spending can be fast-tracked to speed past the normal obstacles, and as much as $15 million in requirements has been authorized in one day, officials point out that such spending will certainly be subject to review.

The goal of all this urgency is to protect Canadians by deterring attacks within the country, and to make sure Canada does not become a safe haven for terrorists planning attacks elsewhere. The federal government will be spending more money to gather information and upgrade police capabilities, to screen people arriving in Canada more carefully, to better prepare for emergencies, and to train and equip the military.

Airports are the first concern. In the past, terrorists have singled out commercial aviation as a target – now airliners have become weapons. In either case, airports are a top priority for added security. Fully $2.2 billion of the $6.5 billion allocated in the December 2001 Federal Budget to defend Canada against terrorism is dedicated to protecting aviation.

Over five years, through Transport Canada (www.tc.gc.ca), the federal government will spend that $2.2 billion to bring the security environment around air travel up to rigorous new national standards. To get that done, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority has been created. Reporting to the Minister of Transport, the new Authority will provide key security services. To pay for these services, a new Air Travelers Security Charge of $12 each way is being levied on airline passengers, beginning April 1, 2002, for travel within the country. One of its most important responsibilities will be to ensure that no unauthorized explosives are placed aboard aircraft, either in luggage or cargo. More than $1 billion will be spent on explosives detection systems over the next five years. (See sidebar.)

For the first time in decades, armed police officers in civilian clothes began traveling on Canadian aircraft to protect them from hijackers, while cockpit doors were replaced so they would be more secure. Security zones around airport handling facilities and aircraft parking areas were upgraded.

A new, $6-million information system will connect officers who handle the traveling public to data banks in Canada and abroad. As new technologies are put into place, cargo and baggage handlers and airline staff will require new training programs.

Over the next five years, federal purchasing officers will be shopping for an array of goods and services, ranging from simple contracts for security guard services to advanced technologies like scanning units that can electronically transmit and analyze fingerprints, palm-prints and photographs. New and existing laboratories will need specialized equipment for analyzing and deterring the threats from chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Within the $1.2 billion allotted to federal security departments like the RCMP (www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca) and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), CSIS (www.csis-scrs.gc.ca) received its biggest funding increase ever, much of which will be devoted to technical upgrades – computers, fax machines and telecommunications systems.

The security of Canada’s passport system is being enhanced with technology for expanded background checks and a new, high security passport booklet with embedded photos, holograms, advanced printing and other security features. A new on-site, online identification and retrieval information system is being implemented for passport officers; and the Passport Office
(www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/passport/menu.asp) is getting more staff. Security guards and cameras have been placed at all passport offices, and an online data verification process has been set up with the provinces.

The September 11 attack prompted concern at every level of government, but with today’s strained budgets, not every government can summon the necessary resources to deal with the surging demand. At the end of January, Michelle McKinnon of the Nova Scotia Justice Department (www.gov.ns.ca/just) says her government was still grappling with the issues and wondering how the federal government will help to compensate provinces for security-related activities. “The point is how the federal government is going to help the provinces with respect to some of those costs. Things like training, for police, for crown attorneys. That’s really where we are right now,” she says.

With regard to assessing potential targets for vulnerability, McKinnon says, “Certainly the RCMP has been tasked with that and they have identified some. For Nova Scotia, at least, we have been given, thankfully, a low threat assessment.”

But as far as assuming the costs of hardening vulnerable targets against terrorist threats, McKinnon says, “We feel very strongly that it has to be shared.”

A wealthier province with more promising targets, Ontario committed about $30 million dollars in the wake of September 11 to improve security for Ontario residents, according to Bill Parish of the Ontario Solicitor-General’s (www.solicitorgeneral.msg.gov.on.ca/english/default.htm) office.

“An Ontario rapid response team will be made up of Ontario Provincial Police officers to counter terrorist threats. We’re increasing funding for intelligence gathering,” he says. “We are going to build facilities at both the Ontario Fire College and the Ontario Police College. The police college construction will support anti-terrorist training and the fire college will get an Emergency Management Training Centre.” The budget for Emergency Measures Ontario (EMO) is being doubled to allow EMO to work with municipalities on emergency plans and exercises.

The leadership of this war against terrorism has emphasized that it could take as long as 10 years to win a decisive victory. Buying and deploying many of the weapons to win this struggle with no doubt stretch the capacities of the existing procurement system, as terrorists devise new ways to attack and governments develop new ways to counter them. Many of the weapons are still in the imaginations of the adversaries in this conflict.

SIDEBAR
New technology detects bombs

Just two weeks after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Transport Minister David Collenette announced that Transport Canada was buying advanced explosives detection systems (EDS) to improve security at high-priority Canadian airports.

Transport Canada had already been working with airports and airlines to improve the ability to detect explosives at every major Canadian airport, with a timetable for implementation in 2003. Clearly, after September 11, the timetable was advanced. Due to security reasons, no specific information was available about where and how the equipment would be deployed, but Collenette did say his department would continue to “…develop standards that would require the broader and more systematic use of advanced explosives detection systems in the future.”

Transport Canada would not tell Summit how much it plans to spend on EDS for Canada’s airports, but there is no doubt it will be a substantial portion of the $2.2 billion the December 2001 Federal Budget allocated to air travel security. EDS capable of handling the high volumes of luggage and cargo that stream through major airports can cost as much as $1.5 million.

Canada has been a leader in airport EDS – installing explosives and vapour detection systems at this country’s airports in 1985. At that time, the systems were used to check suspicious luggage and sweep aircraft that presented a particularly attractive target to terrorists. Today, of course, the objective is to check every piece of cargo and luggage arriving at a Canadian airport.

Even before the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, Transport Canada’s research and development arm, the Transportation Development Centre, had tripled its spending on airport security, with EDS as its first priority. Laser, X-ray and infrared technologies are all being evaluated for their effectiveness in screening large quantities of luggage and cargo quickly and effectively.

Obviously, the first requirement in a bomb detector is the ability to find hidden explosives, but in an airport setting, the system must be non-intrusive, low-maintenance, high-capacity and, above all, not prone to issuing false alarms. As well, the EDS equipment should integrate with existing baggage-scanning and handling equipment. Operating procedures must be easily learned so new and existing security employees can be quickly trained.

In May 2000 the US Federal Aviation Administration (www.faa.gov) awarded a contract to three companies, L-3 Communications, InVision Technologies and PerkinsElmer Inc., to develop lower-cost EDS equipment for smaller airports and other facilities that do not require high-capacity systems but do require the same state-of-the-art detection capability.

Post September 11, L-3 Communications and InVision Technologies, the only US manufacturers of EDS equipment, found themselves unable to meet the demand for bomb-detection equipment. Over the last five years, only about 50 of the United States’ 546 airports have been equipped with bomb detectors. That means only about 10 percent of the one billion pieces of luggage that go through American airports each year have been checked for bombs. It’s been estimated that as many as 2,000 machines will be needed to meet the demand in US airports alone, so Canadian purchasers may find themselves in a bidding war for scarce equipment, at least in the near term.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says there is an annual six percent increase in the number of air travelers, which means that passenger traffic will double by the year 2010. There is no reason to doubt that the increase in Canada will be at least in that range. To maintain a viable aviation industry, the pressure is on for security measures to keep up with capacity, so it’s a safe bet that spending on EDS and the support services required will increase substantially in the years ahead.


Richard Bray is an Ottawa-based freelance writer specializing in the IT sector. He has been published in magazines and newspapers in Australia, the US and Canada. Before freelancing, he worked as a producer, reporter and senior writer for CBC in Toronto.

 


 

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