Working with Local Law Enforcement to Share Data

Department of Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate’s First Responders Group’s (FRG) Video Datacasting Project transmits encrypted live video and data over existing broadcast television signals to a targeted audience within public safety. Users can download data in the field, improving interoperability at minimal cost and effort in the furtherance of public safety. This project is part of FRG’s ongoing efforts to ensure first responders have the tools, technologies, and knowledge they need to save lives and protect property while staying safe.

“Datacasting is a broadcasting mechanism capable of one-to-many content delivery which reduces congestion on public safety agencies’ networks,” said FRG Program Manager Cuong Luu. “This vastly impacts how video and data is currently shared by responders, providing better collaboration, and continuing to leverage current infrastructure costs of the public broadcast television stations.”

When broadcast television transitioned from analog to digital broadcast transmissions, it created the opportunity to allocate television spectrum in new ways. Datacasting takes advantage of a portion of the public broadcasting station’s bandwidth normally used for television programming, resulting in this technology being available to public safety at a very low cost.

Last year, FRG joined Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, SpectraRep, and several Public Broadcasting Service television stations in two successful pilots in Houston, Texas and in Chicago, Illinois. These pilots demonstrated the ability of datacasting to support public safety communications in an operational environment, expanded on current datacasting uses, and determined benefits and limitations.

During the pilot, recipients successfully received all transmissions including alerts, images, files, and live video streams. Participants touted the installation and operation of the system as user-friendly and asked to keep the systems after the pilot exercises concluded. One officer even described datacasting as “a potentially life-saving tool.”

“We have folks that are watching cameras 24-hours a day. So when something happens, they report to the officers what they are seeing. But something always gets lost in translation. The advantage to this is we can send video directly to the officers (and,) they can look at an image and know exactly what they are looking at,” said Chief of Staff for the University of Houston Police Department LT. Bret Collier.

The Houston pilot’s success was publically recognized among top innovators in the security industry as the Grand Platinum winner at the 2015 Secured Cities Exclusive Security Innovation Awards luncheon on November 12, 2015. The pilot was unanimously selected as the top overall security project of the year due to its unique scope and application.

With the completion of these pilots, after action reports with information on the capabilities and potential limitations of the technology have been produced. The Houston and Chicago reports are now available on firstreponder.gov.

FRG is working with Houston so they may keep the equipment in place and continue using it in their daily operations. FRG provides funding and equipment to partners so they can test and use this technology for their public safety needs, but does not collect or store any of the data.

S&T is currently looking to identify other potential public safety partners and pilot locations for 2016 to test additional capabilities. Interested responders should send an email to first.responder@hq.dhs.gov.

Training on Response to Active Shooters

After months of coordination between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and the New York Police Department (NYPD) Counter Terrorism Division, the NYPD conducted an active shooter training exercise on November 22. The exercise not only tested their training and proficiency, but also allowed them to incorporate several commercial technologies that could benefit future emergency situations.

Active Shooter1“Not only was I impressed with the quality of the training and the level of proficiency displayed, but also with the coordination and unity of effort of the event,” said S&T’s Deputy Under Secretary for Science and Technology Dr. Robert Griffin. “I am really pleased that DHS S&T had the opportunity to help support this important mission, playing a critical role in working with our partners in NYC.”

During the active shooter exercise, Griffin was joined by Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner William Bratton, and Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro.

S&T’s Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA) Explosive Division team worked hand-in-hand with the NYPD Counter Terrorism Division to help fund, develop the concept for, provide training in advance, and showcase technologies for use in future emergencies. The exercise scenario, included a suicide bomber and two active shooters, and took place at a closed New York City (NYC) subway station. The event drew participation from numerous local and federal agencies, including DHS headquarters, S&T, the U.S. Army’s Armament, Research Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC), NPPD, Secret Service, FEMA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and numerous state and local agencies.

“This an extraordinary event, one that is very important to recognize because exercises and training like this improves coordination between agencies, awareness of training, and further unifies our efforts to secure our nation,” Griffin, a former firefighter, explained.

The NYPD initially approached S&T more than 11 months ago and asked for Active Shooter2support specifying the exercise should be held in a subway station. With a broad mission to deliver effective and innovative insight, methods and solutions for the critical needs of the Homeland Security Enterprise (HSE), sometimes S&T doesn’t need to create new technologies or training; they can leverage resources from other federal departments. S&T’s HSARPA team, which focuses on cutting-edge research to produce revolutionary changes in technologies, new capabilities and threat and risk assessments for the HSE, S&T used its liaisons in the Counter Terrorism Technology Evaluation Center to spearhead this particular effort. The CTTEC was developed via an Interagency Agreement with ARDEC to assist in evaluating tactics, technologies, and procedures responders use when responding to an active shooter incident. S&T’s CTTEC and ARDEC normally support at least two of these active shooter types of exercises annually. In August 2015, they completed an active shooter/IED exercise with West Orange New Jersey.

This is the fifth such exercise DHS has planned and coordinated to support technologies demonstrations and evaluations. This active shooter exercise afforded DHS and S&T the opportunity to observe police officers using several tools of potential value to DHS and other HSE components including an indoor shot detection capability, a geo-referenced graph for better situational awareness, and an interoperable communications capability currently used by the U.S. Army.

NYPD Active Shooter ExerciseThe exercise was specifically designed to test the coordination between multiple NYPD responder resources, Bratton was quoted as saying. He was very clear in telling citizens of New York City, that they are very well prepared and continually improving that preparedness.

While this exercise wasn’t in response to the attacks in Paris, Griffin echoed Johnson when he said it should give the citizens of NYC, and the rest of the nation, confidence that all levels of the government are working together to be prepared for whatever the future may bring.

“We will continue to be vigilant and use training and preparedness events like this to improve our community’s ability to respond to disasters,” Griffin concluded.