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The Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office has acquired a new type of sonar equipment to help protect local waterways against terrorism.
The Echoscope is a real-time, three-dimensional device the marine patrol will use to scan harbors, piers and the bottom of ships for security threats.
The system was acquired after a threat assessment by the sheriff's office in 2006 concluded that major companies located along the county shoreline were susceptible to a terror attack, sheriff's Lt. Will Dukes said.
"It showed that the critical facilities were at risk," Dukes said, "and found that they needed a sustained security presence on the water near these facilities."
The facilities at risk include the Chevron, Tesoro, ConocoPhillips and Shell oil refineries and Dow and Rhodia chemical companies, Dukes said.
A beta version of the Echoscope was used by Bay Area law enforcement at the 2007 Major League Baseball All-Star Game in San Francisco to scan the area around AT&T Park for safety hazards. Local agencies found it went far beyond the capabilities of traditional sonar systems.
"If they need to scan a pier or harbor wall, instead of seeing a 2-D image of what's on the floor, you can see the 3-D image and move the image around to see what's around a piling at zero visibility," said Angus Lugsdin of Echoscope developer Coda Octopus.
The device, developed in cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard, has been in the works for nearly 14 years. The sheriff's office is the first agency to put the product to use on the West Coast, but others in the Bay Area will soon be on board, Lugsdin said.
"We are in talks with other agencies," Lugsdin said, "and there is a strong interest from other agencies in the Bay Area."
Funding for the $600,000 system came from the Department of Homeland Security's Port Security Grant program in 2007. The Echoscope will be used by the Infrastructure Protection Team a five-person marine unit formed as a result of funding from the 2006 grant proposal, Dukes said.
The sheriff's office worked with the Community Awareness and Emergency Response group, which consists of the four oil refineries along with the Dow and Rhodia chemical companies, law enforcement agencies and the public, to raise funds in 2006 for the creation of the infrastructure protection team. The group contributed $396,000 to the proposed $1.5 million budget, more than the 25 percent needed for the Homeland Security grant.
"The sheriff places a large emphasis on partnerships," Dukes said. "Not only from local, state and federal but also the critical facilities. All players are involved in the situation. It's really nice."
Purchases of additional resources could be few and far between in the future, Dukes said. Grants have been harder to come by for resources to aid the IPT staff, which patrols from the Port of Richmond to the Antioch Bridge.
"The problem is these grants require 25 percent matching funds from the agencies," Dukes said. "Due to the budget situation, we were unable to participate in the 2008 program. This is just one of many areas where the budget has impacted us. You're going to see more of these systems as agencies find the means to obtain them."