"Historically, communications has proved to be a major shortfall in disaster operations … However, once again the [Extended] Defense Collaboration Tool Suite (E-DCTS) proved to be an extremely valuable tool for NEPLOs (Navy Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officers) to communicate both horizontally and vertically. E-DCTS is worth its weight in GOLD!" – Navy Ardent Sentry Exercise, Summary of Lessons Learned and After Action Reports
Whether it is hurricanes hitting the mainland, law enforcement officers canvassing space shuttle disaster sites, or agencies preparing for terrorist threats, the Area Security Operations Command and Control (ASOCC) system has been there. Operating out of the Space and Naval Warfare (SPAWAR) Systems Center New Orleans, the ASOCC system continues to be a driving force in response to natural disasters, terrorist threats and other incidents.
ASOCC is a Web-based application that provides first respondents (local, state and federal), Defense Department, national intelligence agencies and industry an instrument to share information during emergencies. It provides users with the tools needed to monitor potential disasters and facilitates communications with other agencies across the country.
ASOCC is divided into three main product components: eXPanel, Extended Defense Collaboration Tool Suite (E-DCTS) and Lightweight Collaborative Whiteboard (LCW). These components provide alert notification, collaboration and visualization to equip users with complete situational awareness and crisis management capabilities. Combined, these applications provide responders a means to prepare for and identify specific events and to assess and track any reported situation.
eXPanel allows a user to enter an event, classify it, give it a level of severity and provide its location. An event can be published at various distribution levels with an audible alarm alerting others that action is required. Users can record updates to an event as they happen until resolution. The events can be tracked at local, state or federal level.
E-DCTS provides chat-room capabilities. Users can locate desired rooms, be briefed on how current situations are being handled and interact with other users across the country on mitigation plans. E-DCTS also provides users the capability to upload files to specific secured rooms to share key information, such as presentations, situational reports, charts and more.
LCW is the visual component which displays terrain, routes and the physical characteristics of an event. LCW also has a whiteboard capability that allows users to draw on the map and share this information with all users on the system. An important feature of LCW is its relationship with eXPanel. Alerts from the eXPanel component are displayed automatically on graphical maps in the LCW component to pinpoint the exact location of events.
Training for ASOCC is available from the National Terrorist Preparedness Institute, which is a department of the Southeastern Public Safety Institute of St. Petersburg College.
The NTPI mission is to provide education and training for our nation in terrorism awareness, prevention, preparedness, and response and recovery. Course material is provided at no charge to all participants, but participants must assume costs for travel and expenses.
In addition, remote training workstations have been developed to enable on-site training when needed. NTPI will provide its courses or curriculum to any authorized agency. Courses are not proprietary and are in the public domain and will be given to any local, state or federal agency on request. Some materials are not for the general public and should be treated as "Law Enforcement Confidential."
ASOCC was developed under an Advance Concept Technology Demonstration project for the Defense Information Systems Agency, under the sponsorship of U.S. Northern Command and the direction of Randy Niewenhous, SPAWAR Systems Center New Orleans executive director.
According to Niewenhous, "People are starting to work together and partner as never before [for situational awareness]. We have the technology so why not wire them together with ASOCC."
The system has been transitioned from DISA to SPAWAR Systems Center New Orleans under the management of Gregg Travis, business solutions manager.
ASOCC has been and continues to be used extensively for real-world application as well as drills. When the NASA space shuttle Columbia disaster occurred in 2003, ASOCC was used by state police for debris recovery. The tool helped them to centralize their search over miles of marsh with the use of satellite imagery.
Also in 2003, the use of ASOCC for Hurricane Isabel demonstrated the ability to use ASOCC across the United States. The Louisiana State Police used ASOCC to relay information from modeling experts at Louisiana State University to officials in North Carolina about how much flooding to expect and how long before flooding would diminish.
The Purple Cadre, a focus group that uses ASOCC for crisis management and stages disaster response drills, scheduled a planned drill in Louisiana in 2004. This drill was interrupted by two real-world events: a pipe bomb discovered at a California location and a suspicious vehicle near North Island, San Diego. Events like these demonstrate the importance of ASOCC as a monitoring tool in daily operations.
During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Navy Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officers used ASOCC to coordinate with other agencies when all other traditional forms of communication were unavailable due to storm damage. The E-DCTS component of ASOCC was used on an extensive basis to plan and prepare for Hurricane Dean's arrival in 2007 and to deploy relief in affected areas when Dean hit.
In September 2007, ASOCC was incorporated into the C4I capabilities used during Operation Solid Curtain. Held at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, this annual force protection exercise assists the Navy in preparation for force protection conditions in real-world circumstances.
"With ASOCC, all you need is a browser and Internet connection. Presently, ASOCC is being upgraded to operate more efficiently under a service oriented architecture," Travis said.
Robert Woods is the deputy project manager for ASOCC with QinetiQ North America. Gregg Travis is the ASOCC program manager and the director of the business solutions department in SPAWAR Systems Center New Orleans. For more information about SSC New Orleans, go to http://enterprise.spawar. navy.mil.
For more information about the National Terrorist Preparedness Institute and its courses, go to http://terrorism.spcollege.edu/.