Threat detection and recognition



Maria Andersson, Senior Scientist in Sensor Informatics, Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI), Linköping, Sweden.


Organisations that own, use or transport high value assets recognise the need to protect their goods and employees. This is especially true when they are at their most vulnerable when in remote or isolated situations, at night and when operating alone. By their very nature, trucks, trains, ships and oil rigs are all potential targets for criminal organisations. Furthermore, monitoring systems, early warning and deterrent technology have not been available to address this need at a remotely affordable cost. As a result, there has been an uneasy acceptance that in certain parts of the world, piracy, hijacking or theft are facts of commercial life. However, a refusal to accept this situation has helped to push this issue to the top of the EU agenda.

FOI is the Swedish Defence Research Agency and Technical Co-ordinator for ARENA, (Architecture for Recognition of thrEats to mobile assets using Networks of Affordable sensors). The challenges in protecting high value assets on both land and at sea are considerable. The basis for a solution to the problem has been developed through the ARENA research and development project which is partfunded by the European Commission's FP7 Security Research Programme. The generic surveillance system that has been developed using an affordable system of sensors could provide robust, proactive threat detection and recognition, while being able to differentiate between real threats and false alarms across a range of environments.

Pirates, highwaymen and train robbers may all sound faintly quaint and old fashioned, but anyone involved in the transport industry will tell you that their modern counterparts are as big a threat as they ever were. There is every sign that they will remain so, as long as goods and vehicles remain vulnerable when on the move and isolated. While the threat looms large, the technology installed on vehicles to detect potential security breaches remains crude in comparison to that now becoming available for static deployment.

A ship, a truck or a train is often highly secure while in a port or depot, being physically protected and under close surveillance, but once outside they are a relatively soft target for bands of organised and often dangerous criminals. The theft of high value, high-risk products in transit costs businesses over €8.2 billion (US$11 billion) a year, according to recent EU figures. Since the terrorist attacks on New York on September 11, 2001, the threat of terrorism has also loomed large over the transport sector. The isolation of oil rigs means they face similar threats.

After the 9/11 attacks, the UN agreed proposals to enhance the security of dangerous goods in transport. Terror organisations have demonstrated their willingness to target mass transportation networks along with other critical infrastructure.

Over 70% of all goods transported in the EU are transported using road haulage, a transport method which carries one of the highest risks of being victim to criminal activity. Truck thieves generally steal the whole vehicle or break into trailers to take the contents, sometimes cutting panels and causing other costly damage to gain access. Drivers too are vulnerable to attack and theft. The most common place for a truck to be attacked is at an unguarded parking lot while the driver is asleep. Large cities, like London and Madrid, are the biggest hot spots, but countries like Belgium also have a problem. In the UK alone, 324,000 crimes were recorded against the transport and storage sector in 2012.

The threat is as equally pressing at sea as it is on land. Modern day piracy has presented a significant challenge since civil war broke out in Somalia in the early 1990s, with an upsurge in recent years posing a threat to critical maritime infrastructure. There were no fewer than 49 piracy incidents in the first quarter of 2014 according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), an offshoot of the International Chamber of Commerce which focuses on fighting maritime crime. Two of these vessels were hijacked, 37 boarded and five fired on board. Five more attempted attacks were reported. There were 12 reports off the west African coast, including the hijacking of two vessels, with 39 crew taken hostage and two kidnapped.

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