HomeNews & MediaFeatured StoriesBridging the Gap: APL Works with Border Patrol to Connect Technology Users, Developers 

February 3, 2014

Bridging the Gap: APL Works with Border Patrol to Connect Technology Users, Developers


Bryan Gorman
A Border Patrol agent describes local mission operations to APL engineers.
Credit: JHU/APL

After 9/11, the priority mission of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) changed to protecting national security by preventing terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States, with a strategic shift to greater technology use.

While technology shifts promised to greatly increase CBP capabilities, a firm understanding of the operational space and its challenges was necessary to ensure successful technology acquisition. Gaining this understanding can be difficult in many work environments because operational components and technology providers often do not understand one another.

CBP’s challenge was no different. To help ease CBP’s shift to technology, a team from APL is working to bridge the communications gap between the operational and technology-providing communities.

APL’s first step to help bridge this gap with the U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) was in user assessment testing—an operational test designed to get agent feedback on a new technology system. For this testing, APL documented baseline system performance and provided technical precision to support agent observations. These metrics and analysis became part of the requirements documentation that led to pre-deployment improvements.

In a more comprehensive technology–operations bridging effort, APL also helped create the first CBP Design Reference Mission (DRM)—a 600-page/23-gigabyte record of the USBP mission space. This DRM provides a detailed description of the mission space, characteristics of illegal border crossings, and specific scenarios to characterize elements and challenges that these threats pose.

These descriptions and scenarios, originated and validated by the operational community, are specific to an area. They are designed to inform the technical community about that operational mission space and assist in solution implementation. This ensures that future solutions are grounded in operational realities.

“Through the DRM, APL is helping to bridge the gap between operational needs and system acquisition alternatives. We are a trusted independent agent that can supply disciplined systems engineering and innovative modeling and simulation techniques to the sponsor,” says Matt Montoya, the program’s chief engineer, from APL’s Air and Missile Defense Sector. “We’ve been doing DRMs for a long time, and we knew we had the technical knowledge and background to do it for this operation.”

In addition to an understanding of the operational environment, acquisitions require documented operational needs. To help characterize and document CBP needs, APL piloted the Capabilities Gap Analysis Process (CGAP)—a large data-collection effort that uses DRM scenarios to uncover operational capabilities and challenges, and agents’ responses to those challenges in a given area. In a computer-facilitated collaborative environment, APL staff worked with 14 Border Patrol agents who related real-life examples of their challenges relative to the scenario-based discussions to baseline their operations and gaps.

With this operational-based information and various modeling and simulation tools, APL developed metrics, maps, and overlays that capture details of USBP’s challenges in Tucson, Arizona. The simulations captured logistics, timing, and other scenario-specific information for agents’ examination, and mission needs were identified and quantified to inform deployment decisions and solution providers.

“Agents can look at a simulation and determine how long it will take them to get from point A to point B in the event of an illegal border crossing, and what assistance technology and infrastructure [such as roads] are providing them. That information is critical for them to be effective in weighing their solutions and options,” says Dave Frommer, APL’s Asymmetric Operations program manager.

APL is also helping CBP by piloting solutions to novel technical challenges, which then help define requirements and chart the way for acquisition. According to Frommer, APL is developing innovative methods to better capture “a day in the life” of Border Patrol agents and CBP officers to help translate their critical needs into realized solutions. Laboratory staff are working to capture CBP operations requirements and codify them through APL work such as the DRM, modeling and simulation, and CGAP techniques.

“This is what APL does best—systems integration and engineering,” says Frommer. “We’re looking forward to continuing this role with CBP and providing innovative systems engineering and analysis to help their operational end-users better articulate their needs and build a more solid mission system engineering infrastructure for the future.”