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Vital Vision: Using Analytics to Secure Our Checkpoints
How a homegrown analytics tool has helped to enhance vigilance at our checkpoints.

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Homegrown tech: Kee Ein Cern (right) and his team at MHA have designed and built a leading-edge analytics tool to keep our checkpoints secure. PHOTOS: Home Team News

The buzz at Woodlands Checkpoint rises to a peak during the morning and evening rush hours, but never completely subsides; whenever there’s a lull, you can count on a fleet of buses arriving very soon to deliver a fresh load of passengers. 

With over 280,000 travellers passing through the Checkpoint every day, it’s crucial that the immigration clearance process is both secure and efficient. And that’s where technology comes in; since 2012, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) has employed a leading-edge analytics tool to detect Persons of Interest at Woodlands Checkpoint, allowing officers to deal with potential security threats swiftly.

Helping to design and build this powerful tool is Kee Ein Cern, Senior Assistant Director (Surveillance and Analytics) at the Office of the Chief Science and Technology Officer (OCSTO), Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). He explains how tech plays a part in securing our checkpoints.   

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Accurate, swift, secure: Deployed at Woodlands Checkpoint in 2012, ABBSS can quickly identify Persons of Interest. The system can also be deployed as body-worn-cameras for ICA officers on patrol. PHOTOS: Home Team News

Tell us about what you do.
I lead a team based at one of OCSTO’s labs at Woodlands Checkpoint.  We conceptualise, build and implement analytics-based surveillance systems. 

To develop these systems, we learn about the operational requirements of Home Team officers and collaborate with various tech partners. As a project progresses, we also conduct trials, collect data and fix “bugs” to ensure that a system works as it should. This is all part and parcel of the engineering process.

Most people don’t know that we have labs at our checkpoints; unlike those at research institutions, our labs are planted in the heart of the Home Team. This lets us collect data from real operational environments, so that we can design our systems more effectively.

Tell us about a system that was developed by your lab. 
There's a project known as ABBSS (Automated Biometrics & Behavioural Screening Suite) that I’ve been involved with since I joined MHA in 2009. ABBSS is designed to meet the ICA’s operational requirements and comprises a network of cameras with facial recognition capabilities. The system can process a large volume of information quickly to identify Persons of Interest. ABBSS can also be deployed as a mobile camera that’s mounted on a tripod, or as a body-worn-camera for officers. 

ABBSS was deployed at Woodlands Checkpoint in 2012 and has been a game-changer in terms of enhancing our screening capabilities. Today, analytics tools (together with thumbprint and iris biometrics) are integral to enhancing vigilance at our checkpoints.

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Watchful vigilance: ICA officers on duty at the ABBSS Command Centre at Woodlands Checkpoint. With more than 280,000 travellers passing through every day, technology is a key enabler in keeping the Checkpoint secure, and similar capabilities will soon be deployed at other border crossings. PHOTOS: Home Team News

What challenges did your team face in developing ABBSS and other tech tools for the Home Team? 
Our challenge lies in translating leading-edge technologies into operational systems that can deal with fast-evolving threats. That’s why we need to keep abreast of the latest developments and strive to be ahead of the curve. 

We now have many scientists and engineers plying their trade in the Home Team, and our capabilities have grown significantly over the years. This is very heartening to see! 

What’s been the highlight of your time with the Home Team? 
Every case or investigation – big or small – that has been solved by the analytics team is a highlight in its own right. Whenever we get a positive result, it never fails to push us to work even harder.

You have a background in Engineering. Why did you join the Home Team?
I majored in Mechanical Engineering at Nanyang Technological University. After I graduated, I worked in the aeronautical industry for four years. In 2009, I attended a course at the National University of Singapore on Human Factors that was taught by Dr Naresh Kumar, Director of OCSTO. This made me very interested in how we can apply Ergonomics and our understanding of human capabilities to build better systems, and I applied to join MHA a few months later. 

I really enjoy harnessing and applying Science and Technology within our dynamic operating environment. I’m now a Campus Ambassador for MHA, so I get to speak to Engineering and Science students. And this is something I share with them – if they want to push the boundaries of technology, do meaningful work and enjoy great job satisfaction, join the Home Team!

  1. by Mike Tan
  2. 14 November 2018
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