For Tech's Sake: New system demonstrates the power collaboration

Gary Arlen

It takes collaboration to create a collaborative security program. Excuse the tautology, but quick implementation of tools and talents goes beyond typical integration skills ? especially when collaboration itself is one of the three primary objectives of a project.

Collaboration also requires flexibility, which is why the Area Security Operations Command & Control (ASOCC) system is in transition to a Web-based service. The first Web-based versions of the two-year-old ASOCC project are expected to go into service by mid-2005. Web enhancements will allow the collaborative alert and visualization system to reach beyond its base of defense installations and the current limited civilian and municipal police programs.

ASOCC is an interactive computer-based system that provides "situational awareness" to commanders, using collaborative planning capabilities with civil authorities, according to Northrop Grumman Corp. Northrop and Science Applications International Corp. are leading the ASOCC initiative. A cadre of suppliers, including IBM, Mitre, Apogen Technologies, Swan Island and New Paradigm, are supporting ASOCC's objectives of collaboration, visualization and rapid alerts.

ASOCC software allows users, during a crisis, to alert and report situations to affected agencies in real time. The system enables further collaboration between the officials and first response teams so that everyone receives the same information and can collaborate immediately.

The ASOCC approach allows organizations to connect directly to each other in emergencies, rather than moving up and down conventional command chains. For example, if a state trooper of municipal policeman identifies a potential terrorist headed for a military base, information is quickly conveyed directly to the affected defense officials. And vice versa.

ASOCC's fast implementation during the past two years stems, in part, from support by the Defense Information Systems Agency's Accelerated Concept Technology Demonstration. ACTD has budgeted about $6 million to push ASOCC so far.

"The need and demand was so strong that it was fielded right away," explains David Mize, senior vice president in the emerging solutions group at Apogen Technologies, which handles installation and maintenance of local ASOCC facilities and runs the help desk through its New Orleans office.

At the heart of the ASOCC set-up is a three-screen "ex-Panel" workstation. SAIC designs and builds the interactive devices that are currently on more than 200 desktops at about 90 military and civilian first-responder locations. The basic workstation ? which costs about $4,000 ? is built around Dell components, including a mini-tower with a 2.4 GHz processor) and three flat screen monitors. The ex-Panel price is expected to drop considerably when Web-oriented features are implemented next year. The ex-Panel workstation gives users log and alert functions and can display time-phased force deployment data. The newest functions include updated information from Web-based status boards and databases.

ASOCC's software includes workflow breakdown checklists that allow participating organizations to coordinate their planning and responses. The arrangement lets users display, manipulate, and annotate any image and video being fed through the system. In particular, the military, civilian and defense collaborators can use the software's geo-spatial visualization and knowledge management modules for real-time response planning and coordination. Components of the system include a visualization toolkit, Java Imagery and Video Exploitation (JIVE) v and a specially created Defense Collaboration Tool Suite.

Service is distributed via NIPRNET for unclassified information and SIPRNET for classified content. Once inside the network, participants can share material via peer-to-peer connections, with each point linked to primary nodes and firewalls installed to assure security.

Another collaborating partner in the ASOCC structure is the National Terrorism Protection Institute of St. Petersburg, FL, which trains users and creates scenarios for its customized drills and simulations. The institute runs bi-weekly field drills, such a recent exercise in which an early customer, the Louisiana State Police used ASOCC in a hurricane preparedness test. The New York City Police Department, which has installed 15 ASOCC workstations, used the system as an extra security layer during the Republican National Convention in late summer.

The Defense Information Systems Agency is the ultimate driving force behind ASOCC, which is intended to provide graphic and imagery-based photographs and maps with supporting data to all participating organizations.

"What we're trying to do is bread down the stovepipe organizations" of first responders, explains Ridge Bourgeois, an Apogen Technologies program analyst working on the ASOCC project. "We're trying to get more organizations linked through ASOCC."

His colleague Mize adds that, "The whole idea is that this is a backbone for command and control that can do the alerting, collaboration and visualization. It can continually [add] components."

Mize also points out that the in the two years since ASOCC was created, "we've upgraded it."

"The goal is for this project to grow and grow, the basic backbone will grow with emerging technology, Mize says. "As we get new and better tools, we'll put them on the backbone. The design is to be the mainstream backbone for DOD installations, with lots of bleed-over into the civilian side, [making] it easier for them to share information."

Although ASOCC does not depend on breakthrough technology, its collaborative underpinnings emerge from a common goal: to make sure that key local decision-makers can share information on a timely basis.

"Always dynamic," as Mize puts it.

And always collaborative.

Gary Arlen can be reached at

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