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Training Solutions

Science and Technology Directorate

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) worked with U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC) to research and develop training content and methods to enable USBP agents to leverage knowledge, skills and abilities of the expert trackers in their workforces. This new training solution, called Sign Cutting and Tracking, officially transitioned on Nov. 9, 2018, has been tested at the USBP Academy and will be deployed to locations along the U.S. southern border in 2019, to allow the capability to be utilized by both new hire agents and those already on the front lines in national security.

S&T’s new Sign Cutting and Tracking training package is a 3-part solution combining 2D and 3D training videos, a 90-minute computer-based training course, and innovative Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) augmented reality technologies identified through technology scouting. The three components were combined to deliver a solution to USBP that maximizes the efficiency and effectiveness of USBP agents in executing tracking (or “sign cutting”) along the nation’s borders. The training content was also transitioned to FLETC to be leveraged in their backcountry tactics and tracking course for those federal, state, and local organizations developing skills for search and rescue, crime scene investigation, and fugitive capture operations. 

The 2D and 3D video component breaks down the visual cues of human activity across various terrains and how to identify those “signs” in the field. “Sign cutting,” is identifying telltale indicators of movement through the southern border’s desert or northern border’s wooded areas. Expert trackers from USBP and FLETC were able to walk S&T’s research and development team through their tracking process in the field at various locations along the U.S. southern border, including McAllen, Texas; Tucson, Arizona; and San Diego, California. During structured interviews with the research team, expert trackers identified the key cues, methods, and techniques they use when conducting sign cutting and tracking. One or more training developers and human performance specialists then worked through the details of the tracking task, diving deeper with the USBP tracking trainers with a set of questions to elicit more details and information. Through this research and development method, defined as a “cognitive walkthrough,” the expert tracker is able to articulate and communicate the nuances of being able to perform the task at a high level, describing it in different ways to allow the research team to fully understand the task and subtasks from different angles.
“The new training shows navigations and tracking, ‘sign cutting,’ from different environments,” said Scott Glisson, Senior Instructor for Tracking, Land Navigation and Field Skills, FLETC. “Different environments, even though it is sign cutting across the board, the interpretation of different environments will cause you to look for different things, as it shows up. Whether it’s the high desert, Pacific Northwest, lower coastal plain, or lower swamp plain, the ability to bring those venues and help you before you get there or when you arrive to a new duty station, that saves a lot of time and makes you more effective.”

To demonstrate the effectiveness of the new training content, a Post Transition Performance assessment was conducted at the USBP Academy. Two groups/classes of new hire USBP agents participated to compare the impact of existing training methods to the new Sign Cutting and Tracking Training package. One group/class was given the legacy 2-hour block of classroom instruction, and the other utilized the new video and computer-based training developed by S&T. Both groups/classes then went into the field to demonstrate their skills, as part of their practical assessment in “tracking boxes” that instructors use to assess each individual’s tracking performance. Those agents that received their sign cutting and tracking training with S&T’s new training package performed 63% better than those agents that received the existing training (see Figure 1).


Tracking Box Evaluation
Figure 1 The comparison of the current instructor-led training compared to Expert Tracker (Web Enabled). The assessments were conducted two to three days following classroom training.

In 2019, S&T will be collaborating with eFLETC, FLETC’s online campus, to make the training accessible across the DHS Enterprise as well as to state, local and tribal law enforcement officers. “DHS S&T’s computer-based training will orient new students and allow current agents and officers to brush up and to get a basis of knowledge before they come out for field training,” said Glisson. “These are perishable skills and if afforded the chance to go online and get the training preemptive, before taking the class, or utilize it for refresher or recurrent training, would advance students. That ability to go online and get that training on either navigation or tracking is a huge asset to have.”

Also in 2019, S&T will be transitioning the third piece of the training package, which includes the Augmented Reality Sandtable (ARES). DHS S&T transitioned the first ARES  to the USBP Academy in 2018, and will transition this capability to forward operating locations along the southern border at various sector headquarters in 2019.

Figure 5 DHS S&T Senior Scientific and Technical Advisor Darren P. Wilson, U.S. Border Patrol Academy Chief Dan Harris, and U.S. Border Patrol Deputy Chief Scott Luck next to the transitioned Sandtable.
DHS S&T representative and Border Patrol Agents with the Practical Assessment Tracking Box. (Courtesy Photo)

ARES utilizes a commercial 3D motion camera to track the topography of the sand and then overlays the map or other data being viewed using a standard projector. This solution incorporates a low cost table filled with sand that utilizes a COTS projector and Xbox Kinect to deliver a solution for USBP. This gives them the capability/technology to dynamically create terrain for an area of interest, visualize lines of sight, etc. and overlay different types of maps for a 3-D hologram type feel.  The sandtable component is very useful for training, situation awareness, mission pre-brief and after action review. A floor projected version is also available for briefing larger groups, and all of the variations can be networked together for coordination of exercises or operations in different locations. 

This innovative technology scouted by DHS S&T combined with the 3D video and computer-based training course developed by S&T provide a solution for USBP and FLETC to maximize the knowledge, skills, and abilities of agents and officers in identifying and tracking movement of personnel to enforce immigration laws, counter drug and human trafficking, pursue fugitives, and conduct search and rescue operations.

For more information, contact, watch a short video about the project at or learn more about the ARES at:


Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers
Protocol & Communications Office
Contact: 912-267-2447