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OIG Warns CBP Over Video Surveillance Power Outages

Since December 2021, Blaine ports of entry have experienced three power outages with one, on December 12, lasting more than 24 hours.

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) says U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) needs to provide adequate emergency back-up power to its video surveillance systems at the Blaine Area ports of entry to ensure secure and safe operations.

OIG inspections in September 2022 found that the Blaine Command Center (BCC) at the Pacific Highway land port of entry is not connected to adequate emergency back-up power. The watchdog’s management alert states that this is an urgent issue because “inadequate emergency power during an outage poses significant security and safety risks by hindering the ability of these ports to deter and detect security incidents, capture interactions between officers and the traveling public, and capture video footage for use in law enforcement investigations.”

The BCC monitors 17 ports of entry and responds to emergencies and system alerts. Since December 2021, Blaine ports of entry have experienced three power outages with one, on December 12, lasting more than 24 hours. Following this incident, a CBP Blaine area port official emailed Blaine area port leadership on December 15, 2021, outlining the lack of power at the BCC during the outage. According to the port official, the BCC systems “were never hooked up to the main power grid of the backup generator.” The port official also wrote that the issue “poses a significant security issue throughout the Blaine area of responsibility that covers ports of entry along the entire northern border between Washington State and Canada.” 

Decisions on the type of emergency back-up power that equipment is connected to would have been initially made at the design stage of the land port of entry. Because the Blaine area ports of entry were built or last renovated more than 10 years ago, it is unclear why the equipment is not currently connected to an emergency backup generator.

CBP Blaine area port officials told OIG that they believe the equipment should have been connected to an emergency back-up generator and have been proactive in addressing these issues. 

In fiscal year 2020, OIG reported that U.S. Border Patrol’s remote video surveillance cameras often ranged from 15 to 20 years old at several Southwest Border Patrol sectors and suffered from frequent malfunctions or repair issues. For example, during a site visit to a U.S. Border Patrol sector in California, inspectors witnessed a camera unable to provide video feed to a command center because it had been out of service for approximately three months while awaiting repair. 

Based on OIG’s latest findings, it is making three recommendations to CBP. First, that it takes immediate action to ensure the Blaine Command Center is connected to adequate emergency back-up power. To accomplish this, OIG says CBP should work closely with the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) to determine the most efficient and effective method for connecting the Blaine Command Center to adequate emergency back-up power. 

In addition, OIG is calling for immediate action to ensure video surveillance camera equipment at the Pacific Highway and Peace Arch land ports of entry is connected to adequate emergency back-up power. 

Finally, OIG recommends that CBP conduct assessments at its land ports of entry to identify video surveillance camera equipment not connected to adequate emergency back-up power as required; and develop and implement a strategy to fund and timely resolve issues identified during the assessment of land ports of entry. 

CBP concurred with each recommendation and said it met with GSA on November 14, 2022, to assess and identify any immediate action required to ensure adequate emergency back-up power at the BCC. The first step identified for this process is the completion of a power study and an assessment of operational requirements to evaluate the BCC’s centralized video surveillance equipment, coverage, and back-up power needs. CBP said this information will then be used to refine existing cost estimates and develop a scope of work and final cost estimate to provide additional emergency power, as needed, and pending availability of funding.

CBP will also assess the Pacific Highway and Peace Arch land ports to determine immediate updates to emergency back-up power for surveillance cameras, implementing near-term solutions, when possible, pending funding availability. When near-term solutions are not feasible or possible, CBP will collaborate with GSA to procure and install new equipment to provide required permanent back-up power to required systems. CBP will also assess operational areas and determine additional equipment needs, collaborating with GSA to develop a statement of work and cost estimate to procure and install any additional surveillance cameras for required operational improvements. 

CBP further stated that it will be evaluating existing data to determine the scope of video surveillance camera equipment not connected to adequate emergency back-up power at the other land ports. CBP and GSA will then develop and implement a strategy to include potential funding solutions to ensure timely improvements and enhancements, as necessary. The estimated completion date for this work is September 29, 2023. 

Read the full report at OIG

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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