Digital technology has begun to tie together national and local public safety and security systems, as two recent government security projects illustrate.
In one project, DICE Corp., Bay City, Mich., is deploying an alarm monitoring and communications system for the Department of Homeland Security. Designed to channel information to the necessary people immediately, the nationwide system will tie together federal and local emergency management and response organizations, including 911 centers, hospitals, weather services, military operations, and other governmental groups and businesses in a sort of public safety Internet. "We've put together a communications engine for these authorities to plug into," says Clifford Dice, the company's CEO.
Dice compares the concept to the Internet or the backbone of a massive digital communications system that routes and re-routes data to and from millions of points around the country. National and local government agencies, and private organizations with emergency response concerns, will subscribe to the system and request that certain kinds of data be routed to them.
A test system now operating in the Shenandoah Valley just north of Washington, D.C., provides an example. A company specializing in distributing information about the availability of beds in hospitals has subscribed to the system. During a disaster, the company will receive information from both first responders and hospitals, process the data, and inform emergency medical teams which hospitals can and cannot accommodate patients. "If you route ambulances to a hospital filled to capacity, people could die during re-routing," Dice says.
The system will receive emergency information from a variety of sources, sort the information and forward it to the appropriate national and local authorities. According to Dice, the system will facilitate emergency communications related to hazardous material spills, natural disasters, automobile crashes, public health alerts, terrorist threats, railroad incidents, and virtually any other kind of local, regional, or national emergency.
The DICE network routes emergency information from the ground up to appropriate local and national decision-makers. VistaScape Technology, Atlanta, has developed a technology that not only sends information up the chain, but also implements policy by pushing programmed emergency procedures down to the ground.
For example, one VistaScape customer, a U.S. Navy installation, had concerns about potential terrorist activity against ships docked in its port. Navy policy required that guards in boats patrol the port at all times. In light of current threats, comprehensive coverage required too many guards and too many boats to be practical. In addition, guards in boats could initiate a response to an event only as fast as they could pass alerts along by phone, radio or PDA.
VistaScape addressed this problem with a security data management system (SDMS) capable of automating the operation of a closed circuit television (CCTV) system and the policy responses required by what the CCTV cameras see.
Off-the-shelf infrared and visible spectrum cameras now dot the harbor, while SDMS monitors the video from the cameras. "With our software, we turned the cameras into sensors," says Glenn McGonnigle, CEO of VistaScape. "Instead of a stream of video, the cameras transmit structured pieces of information representing events, objects, and locations."
Unlike a conventional CCTV system, SDMS does not simply transmit video to human monitors who must develop a response. Instead, the technology comprehends situations and makes measured responses based on policies programmed into the system. Suppose, for example, the system detects an unauthorized boat approaching the Naval base. Programming would turn on the floodlights in that area of the port. If the boat continued to approach, an audible alarm would go off. Next, a public address system would broadcast a prerecorded message requesting that the boat turn around immediately. At the same time, the system would page guards on port patrol boats over PDAs and initiate a human response.
Such a system could continue to apply higher and higher level criteria to security problems as the level of threat increases, pushing programmed policy responses down to the ground ¡ª or in this case, the water. At the same time, the system would inform the human chain of command.
"There are nearly 1,000 U.S. military operations around the world," McGonnigle says. "SDMS could provide theater commanders with aggregated views of all the security events happening at local, regional and national command centers."
Because the DICE system and the VistaScape system deal in digital information, both can communicate if necessary. An SDMS owner, for example, might subscribe to the DICE communications network. Once connected, SDMS could communicate with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at the national level, a hospital at the local level, or any other emergency responder on the system.
The widespread shift to digital data and open technological standards makes these kinds of communications and command systems possible. As the digital revolution continues, more and more systems will be able to communicate with each other. "Eventually, all of these systems will plug into something that I call the Internet for public safety," Dice says.