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CHIPS Articles: SSC Pacific’s Emergency Management Software Tool Granted Authority to Operate

SSC Pacific’s Emergency Management Software Tool Granted Authority to Operate
Enables interoperable communications across myriad agencies responding to disasters
By Katherine Connor, SSC Pacific staff writer - July-September 2016
Providing aid to those affected during a natural disaster or emergency often requires the cooperation and support of multiple agencies — the local fire department, city police or county sheriff, often state-level emergency agencies, including Emergency Operations Centers or the National Guard, and federal actors such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). During large disasters, the number of agencies involved can be in the hundreds.

You might assume that these groups use common communications systems, making connectivity simple. However, because of the many disparate systems used, planning interoperable communications in advance for these unpredictable events has often been very difficult — until now.

Thanks to the Communications Assets Survey and Mapping (CASM) software tool funded by the Department of Homeland Security and developed by researchers at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific) in San Diego, agencies can now easily access information that enables effective cross-discipline communications.

“If something happens, an agency can find out who are the closest qualified communications support personnel, access their contact information, as well as what shared channels and mobile assets are available, for example, and all of that information and much more is easily accessible in the CASM tool,” said Eric Coolbaugh, the SSC Pacific lead scientist on the CASM project.

For example, county and city emergency agencies often use different radio systems that are incompatible with each other. So if a fire chief from the city needs to communicate and share information with the county sheriff about something urgent during a state of emergency, that task can be surprisingly difficult without prior planning.

CASM enables agencies to work together within the National Incident Management System’s (NIMS) Incident Command Structure (ICS). ICS gives structure for multiple teams on various channels to communicate effectively and CASM helps the incident commander make the best use of the available spectrum, equipment and personnel resources.

“It’s not as if police would normally want to talk directly with fire crews, but within the command and control structure there would be a controlled way for either agency to get messaging up through the chain for those that need to understand, for improved situational awareness,” Coolbaugh said.

The tool was used tactically during major emergencies in the past, including hurricanes Katrina and Andrew, but has seen an uptick in usage since it was recently granted a Federal Information System Management Authority to Operate by DHS. The Department of State, U.S. Army and DHS itself have begun to use the tool.

DHS recognized the need for CASM after the Sept. 11 tragedy.

“CASM is a part of the Interoperable Communications Technical Assistance Program that was created after the 9/11 Commission Report, which found that New York Police and New York Fire were not fully aware of each other’s situations during that event,” Coolbaugh said. “For instance, police believed the Towers were going to fail, but the fire department didn’t know of that assessment. They didn’t have the interoperable communications to allow them to be warned. That was one of the things that caused federal assistance in this area to start. As we went around the country to help agencies, it became obvious that interoperable communications was often not a priority elsewhere.”

Coolbaugh said the goal behind CASM isn’t just that it would be used in the midst of a crisis, but that agencies would use it as a planning tool to be prepared in advance to communicate with other agencies. CASM has become increasingly useful as more agencies get on board.

Several states now mandate the use of CASM for all agencies operating in the state, and the tool has gained significant momentum after it gained its Authority to Operate.

Use of CASM is free for any federal, tribal, state, local, or non-government agency, though access is controlled through a user organizational hierarchy where, for example, a state controls that state data. Access may be requested at www.publicsafetytools.info, where public resources are also available for the emergency communications community.

SSC Pacific enables information warfare superiority for Naval, Joint, National and Coalition warfighters through research, development, delivery and support of integrated capabilities.

Tech. Sgt. Keith Berry looks down into flooded streets searching for survivors. He is part of an Air Force Reserve team credited with saving more than 1,040 people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He is a pararescueman with the 304th Rescue Squadron from Portland, Ore. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Bill Huntington
Tech. Sgt. Keith Berry looks down into flooded streets searching for survivors. He is part of an Air Force Reserve team credited with saving more than 1,040 people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He is a pararescueman with the 304th Rescue Squadron from Portland, Ore. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Bill Huntington

U.S. Air Force Pararescuemen from the 38th Rescue Squadron, Moody Air Force Base, Ga., attempt to rescue residents of New Orleans in support of Joint Task Force Katrina. U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Mike Buytas/Released
U.S. Air Force Pararescuemen from the 38th Rescue Squadron, Moody Air Force Base, Ga., attempt to rescue residents of New Orleans in support of Joint Task Force Katrina. U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Mike Buytas/Released
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