Automated License Plate Readers on the U.S. Border

Automated License Plate Readers on the U.S. Border

AP/FILE 2014

When U.S. Border Patrol agents stopped a vehicle at the border checkpoint in Douglas, Ariz., it wasn’t a lucky break. They had been on the lookout for the driver’s vehicle and it had been spotted by an automated license plate reader (ALPR). The driver, attempting to escape into Mexico, was arrested on suspicion of murder.

All along U.S. borders, ALPRs changed the face and pace of security and enforcement – although not in ways most people might expect.

While APLRs may occasionally catch individuals with a criminal record trying to come into the United States, they play a much greater role in stopping criminals trying to leave. The systems have driven a dramatic drop in vehicle thefts in U.S. border towns. They’ve also been instrumental in finding missing persons and stopping contraband.

“Recognition technology has become very powerful,” says Mark Prestoy, lead systems engineer in General Dynamics Information Technology’s Video Surveillance Lab. “Capturing an image – whether a license plate or something more complex such as a face can be successful when you have a well-placed sensor, network connection and video analytics. Once you have the image, you can process it to enhance and extract information. License plate recognition is similar to optical character recognition used in a printed document.”

“It’s an enforcement tool,” says Efrain Perez, acting director of field operations and readiness for Customs and Border Protection (CBP). “They help us identify high-risk vehicles.”

The agency has about 500 ALPR systems deployed at 91 locations to process passenger vehicles coming into the United States. It also has ALPRs on all 110 outbound lanes to Mexico, which were added in 2009 after the U.S. committed to trying to interrupt the flow of cash and weapons from the U.S. into Mexico. CBP is slowly adding the devices to outbound lanes on the Canadian border, as well.

For APLRs surveilling inbound traffic, their primary purpose is to eliminate the need for border officers to manually enter license plate numbers, allowing them to maintain a steady gaze on travelers so they can spot suspicious behavior and maintain situational awareness. Outbound traffic trained ALPRs are used to identify high-risk travelers, help track the movement of stolen vehicles and support other U.S. law enforcement agencies through the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System.

Along the southern U.S. border, most ALPRs are fixed units at ports of entry and cover both inbound and outbound vehicles. Along the Canadian border, most APLRs are handheld units. CBP officials hope to install fixed readers at northern ports of entry in the future. “The hand-held readers are not as robust,” points out Rose Marie Davis, acquisition program manager of the Land Border Integration Program (LBIP).

The first generation of readers was deployed around 1997­-98 timeframe. Today, LBIP incorporates the technology, experience and lessons learned from that initial effort. Another effort, under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative in 2008 and 2009, extended those lessons learned to all other aspects of inspection processing.

The readers serve three purposes: Information gathered from vehicles transiting checkpoints is checked against a variety of law enforcement databases for outstanding warrants or other alerts. Once through, the readers allow CBP officers who conducted the primary inspection to maintain observation of a vehicle after passage.

CBP operates both fixed and mobile border checkpoints in addition to ports of entry.

But the ALPRs’ facilitation of legitimate travel and processing is one of its most telling and least publicly appreciated roles, Davis noted. “That automation facilitates legitimate travel. On our land borders it’s used to keep up the flow.”

With roughly 100 million privately owned vehicles entering through land borders in fiscal 2016 and 24 million processed at inland Border Patrol checkpoints each year, the ALPRs significantly reduce the need to manually enter license plate information – which takes up to 12 seconds per vehicle – on top of entering numerous other data points and documents, according to Davis.

Those extra seconds add up. CBP says it averages 65.5 seconds to process each vehicle entering the country, or 55 vehicles per lane per hour. That number drops to 46.5 vehicles per lane per hour without ALPR.

“For a 12-lane port like Paso Del Norte in El Paso, Texas, the throughput loss without ALPRs [would be] equivalent to closing two lanes,” CBP said in a statement. The technology is even more critical to CBP’s Trusted Traveler Programs (NEXUS and SENTRI), which allow participants express border-crossing privileges. Those highly efficient lanes now process vehicles in just 36 seconds, so adding 12 seconds processing time to each vehicle would result in a 33 percent decline in throughput.

“At the most congested ports, where wait times exceed 30 minutes daily, even a 5 to 10 second increase in cycle time could result in a doubling of border delays for inbound vehicle travelers,” CBP said.

When it comes to data storage and management, ALPR data is managed and stored through CBP’s TECS system, which allows  users to input, access and maintain records for law enforcement, inspection, intelligence-gathering, and operations.

Privacy advocates like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have expressed concern about potential abuse and commercialization from the sharing of data acquired by law enforcement ALPRs around the country. However, border ALPR data is held by CBP and is law enforcement sensitive. Sharing is strictly with other federal and law enforcement agencies. Sharing of data is under the strict privacy rules of the Department of Homeland Security. However, most of the sharing comes from state and local enforcement agencies sending information on stolen or missing vehicles and people to CBP and the Border Patrol, rather than outward bound information from CBP.

The sharing pays off in numerous ways. For example, a young girl kidnapped in Pennsylvania was found in Arizona, thanks to ALPR border data. Armed and dangerous individuals from Indio, Calif., to Laredo, Texas have been apprehended thanks to border ALPRs. Missing and abducted children have been found and major drug busts have captured volumes of illegal drugs, including 2,827 pounds of marijuana in Falfurrias, Texas, and 60 pounds of cocaine in Las Cruces, N.M., all thanks to ALPR data.

One of the most startling reader successes on the border is the dramatic reduction in vehicle thefts in U.S. border towns. Thieves who steal cars in the United States and attempt to drive them into Mexico now have a much higher chance of being caught.

Laredo, Texas, led American cities in car thefts in 2009. In 2015, it was 137th. Similar drops were seen in San Diego, which dropped from 13th to 45th, Phoenix, which dropped from 40th to 80th and Brownsville, Texas, which dropped from 75th to 217th.

Funding for ALRP purchases comes from the Treasury Executive Office of Asset Forfeiture. While CBP makes an annual request to expand its outbound program, officials are now seeking a complete technology refresh to update second-generation readers installed between 2008 and 2011.

Improvements include higher-resolution day and night cameras, faster processing times, improved data security, lighter, more covert readers, mobile device connectivity , new audio and visual alarms, improved durability and reduced power consumption.

Officials would like to expand ALRP use along the northern border, reading vehicle plates leaving the U.S., starting in metro Detroit.

“We’ve requested the funding for the tech refresh,” says Davis. “We have a new contract and it has been priced out, but we’re not funded to do that refresh yet,” she says. However, officials are hopeful that funding will be found and an even more effective generation of readers can be deployed.

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Getting Past Passwords for Mobile Device Security

Getting Past Passwords for Mobile Device Security

In the beginning was the password. And the password was good.

Then came the Common Access Card (CAC) and token systems. And they were good.

But it wasn’t enough. And over time there came numerous other forms of identity verification: biometrics and voice recognition and facial recognition.

For deeper security, there were combinations of verifiers: for example, a smart card and fingerprint or a user name and a biometric confirmation.

And then came the smart phone.

Of all the challenges that the digital world has presented to those who need to maintain security, though, the smart phone stands as an opportunity and a threat, a challenge and a puzzle.

Randy Vanderhoof Executive Director of the Secure Technology Alliance

Randy Vanderhoof
Executive Director of the Secure Technology Alliance

“The smart phone is the break point because it started moving more of peoples’ business lives and social lives from the laptop and more and more people started using that technology,” says Randy Vanderhoof, executive director of the Secure Technology Alliance (formerly the Smart Card Alliance), a non-profit association of companies in the security market. “Mobile devices have reached the saturation point. [Virtually] every man, woman and child has a mobile device.”

That swift adoption of mobile technology by the world’s population is nothing short of astonishing. By 2015, subscriptions to mobile services had reached 4.7 billion globally, according to the Global System for Mobile Alliance, a professional organization that includes most carriers, mobile network operators and equipment makers. By 2020, that’s expected to reach 5.6 billion – 70 percent of the world’s population.

The Government Perspective
All those mobile devices make personal identity verification a burgeoning business and the same demand for mobile verification is extending into the highly secure world of government. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in particular, needs to verify government employees who need mobile or remote access to work files and systems.

The April 2017 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Study on Mobile Device Security, released under the signature of Robert Griffin Jr., acting DHS under secretary for science and technology, notes that while government use of mobile devices represent “almost an insignificant market share,” the stakes are considerable: “Government mobile devices…represent an avenue to attack back-end systems containing data on millions of Americans in addition to sensitive information relevant to government functions.”

What is more, the vulnerabilities are numerous:

  • The mobile device technology stack, including mobile operating systems and lower-level device components
  • Mobile applications
  • Networks (e.g., cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth) and services provided by network operators
  • Device physical access
  • Enterprise mobile services and infrastructure, including mobile device management, enterprise mobile app stores and mobile application management

While the report found that security is improving both for the devices themselves and among operating system providers, “many communication paths remain unprotected and leave the overall ecosystem vulnerable to attacks.” For government, verification and security is a systematic question of improving the overall mobile ecosystem. To do this, DHS is recommending:

  • Programmatic improvements
  • Increased DHS authorities
  • Adoption of standards and best practices
  • Additional research

Improving programs and adopting new standards and best practices are especially important. The report urges active DHS participation in standard-setting bodies and efforts.

Two legal gaps stand out in particular: DHS has no legal authority to compel mobile carriers to assess risks to their networks that might affect government mobile device use. Also, while DHS can evaluate carrier network vulnerability, it cannot compel carriers to provide the information it needs to make such evaluations. In response, DHS wants to alter Federal Information Security Modernization Act metrics to cover mobile devices and develop a new program of research and development to secure mobile networks and technology.

Overall, the report stated, “Federal departments and agencies should, where needed, develop or strengthen policies and procedures regarding government use of mobile devices overseas based on threat intelligence and emerging attacker tactics, techniques, and procedures.” To do this, DHS requires “proper” resources and legal authorities to assert itself in securing those devices.

The device perspective
While government itself tries to secure the overall mobile device ecosystem and its networks, the struggle continues to secure and validate individual users and devices—especially as they’re increasingly used to conduct business from a distance.

“The state of the technology is changing rapidly and it becomes increasingly important to be able to adjust to the demands of our mobile dependence on interactive means,” points out Vanderhoof. “So many of the changes that are happening in identity have to do with non-face-to-face interactions with people through the Internet or through their mobile device or through remote communications. We’re seeing more and more accuracy being developed and groups that are looking to leverage the advances in identity and all kinds of technology that will work in our environment that is becoming increasingly mobile as well as disconnected from any physical interaction.”

A variety of identifiers are being studied as possible forms of identity verification for mobile devices, some of which are already in use in other contexts. These include:

  • Gait: Measuring a person’s stride using embedded smartphone sensors like gyroscopes and accelerometers;
  • Facial recognition: Mobile devices can be equipped with facial recognition applications to verify user identity;
  • Fingerprints: Increasingly, smartphones are equipped with fingerprint scanners of growing accuracy;
  • Video: A user can submit a short video “selfie” for verification against an existing database;
  • Social media: Social network logins and profiles can be used to verify identity;
  • Smartphone identifiers: Serial numbers and device codes.

Any of these – plus, of course, the traditional username and password– can be used in combination to provide a variety of levels of security.

What’s more, verification at a distance – without the need for user input or even awareness – is already on the near horizon. “Their gait or voice patterns can be used forensically to match that individual,” Vanderhoof said. “If you’re watching someone type on a keyboard, the pressure on the keys can be measured. You can identify people from a distance or at an airport, where you may not be able to measure someone by a fingerprint biometric. If you’re actually touching something like a machine or keypad, you can measure the veins in their hands, by blood pressure and other physical characteristics that can be acquired against a known biometric.”

Integration is Critical
Whatever the identity verification mechanism an organization chooses, however, it takes skilled integrators to seamlessly meld the new technology with existing authentication and access control mechanisms.

“There are many different authentication mechanisms one could use,” said Rob Lentini, director for credentialing programs at systems integrator General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT). “The challenge is making them work with the access control infrastructure that’s already in place. Few Agencies can afford to rip and replace their existing access control mechanism. But with careful engineering we can ensure that everything works robustly, reliably and at scale. That’s where many of the real challenges are.”

For all this, experts acknowledge that no method is flawless and any verification regime depends on the level of security and intrusiveness required. While consumer applications strive for ease of use and minimal intrusiveness, highly secure applications can require many layers of verification and deep intrusiveness – that is, highly personal unique information, such as a parent’s middle name, date of birth, home address and so forth.

There is no doubt, however, that the need for verification will continue and the means of providing it will continue to be explored.

As Vanderhoof puts it: “It’s becoming increasingly important that we get identity correct and authentication improved because we’re seeing the results of what happens when the bad guys are able to exploit the weaknesses in our current system: malware that gets spread to business computers and consumers because people can’t identify a hacker’s e-mail from a legitimate e-mail or people being able to hack into business computer systems by injecting malware from third party service provider systems that aren’t even systems managed by their own company. These are examples of why it’s important that we get identity and authentication correct. It’s becoming more difficult to fight the criminal exploitation of our electronic systems without it.”

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FirstNet and NG911: Pushing in the Same Direction

FirstNet and NG911: Pushing in the Same Direction

FirstNet and Next Generation 911

Get ready for emergency call services to move into the modern era.

The first-responder community has taken two major steps so far in 2016: First, the national FirstNet program began soliciting formal proposals in January for a comprehensive, nationwide broadband network to support the nation’s first responders. Then in February, three first-responder advocacy groups joined together and, for the first time, set 2020 as a national deadline for Next Generation 911 (NG9-1-1) adoption.

The two moves will redefine the way police, fire and emergency medical services interact with each other and with citizens.

The twin announcements are the culmination of years of effort. Timing now is driven by four factors:

  • Huge advancements in telecommunications technology, especially mobile
  • The 9/11 Commission (the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States) mandate to improve first-responder emergency communications
  • The desire for better location information for emergency calls to improve response
  • A tsunami of multimedia data from mobile phones, surveillance cameras and other sources

Yet the road ahead is pitted with challenges. Though Congress provided national support for FirstNet and local governments are clamoring to upgrade their emergency call systems, some state governments are lagging behind, leaving a critical gap between these two complementary systems.

Specific challenges include:

  • A legacy of independent 911 systems that were formed as local entities because of technological limitations at the time they were built
  • Uneven funding and strategies across the states
  • Outmoded existing equipment nearing the end of its useful life
  • Finalizing standards

‘Natural Partnership’
When it comes to emergency communications, NG9-1-1 and FirstNet form “a natural partnership,” in the words of The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council. “Both NG9-1-1 and FirstNet share the same goal of improving communications during emergencies through a nationwide [Internet protocol]-based architecture.”

NG9-1-1 will provide first responders with location information and multimedia data from mobile 911 callers. The existing wired system cannot support those features.

Meanwhile, first responders will receive mission-critical voice and data communications from dispatchers over FirstNet’s high-speed 4G mobile network.

“Right now we are limited in what we can push out to [first responders] in the field because of bandwidth,” says Steve Souder, director of the Fairfax County, Va., 911 program. FirstNet will solve that problem and allow dispatchers to share data collected using NG9-1-1 with “those who actually respond to the emergency.”

Both are ambitious projects that should substantially improve first-response performance. Both have enthusiastic support from the first-responder community. But to date, each has developed on its own separate track.

NG9-1-1 implementation began in earnest in 2000, when cell phone use was rising and ordinary citizens suddenly found they could transmit more data in more forms than public safety networks could deliver to first responders. Implementation has continued in fragmented and uneven form ever since, with some states and communities pushing ahead and others holding back (see GTW’s Fragmented 911 Networks Put Drag on Next-Generation Upgrades).

FirstNet, by contrast, is federally funded through a $7 billion appropriation, along with up to $135 million in grants to states, territories and the District of Columbia. It is centrally managed by an independent government authority called the First Responder Network Authority with a congressional mandate to help drive the process forward. Yet it, too, must ultimately be approved by the states.

FirstNet received its initial impetus from the 9/11 Commission, which recommended in its summary report that “Congress should support pending legislation which provides for the expedited and increased assignment of radio spectrum for public safety purposes.” That recommendation was passed into law as part of the 2012 Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act.

“FirstNet and NG9-1-1 are joined at the hip in some ways, but the models for their creation could not have been more different,” says Trey Forgety, director of governmental affairs for the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). “FirstNet had its origins when public safety organizations and agencies went to the federal government and said: ‘We need this one thing.’”

Responding to a single, very specific need already sanctioned by the 9/11 Commission was a relatively easy issue for Congress to address at the Federal level. By contrast, Forgety points out, “The 911 agencies did their work at the state and local level and now they’re rolling out networks and systems that need assistance.”

FirstNet’s RFP, NG9-1-1’s Goal
After a year of study and consultation, FirstNet issued its request for proposals (RFP) on Jan. 13, with the objective of creating a Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network. The winning contractor must provide “a comprehensive solution” including all “personnel, materials, services, facilities, management and other resources necessary,” and will sign a single, indefinite-delivery-indefinite-quantity contract with fixed-price payments.

Since issuing the RFP, FirstNet has taken questions from interested parties.

The 2020 deadline set for NG9-1-1 implementation does not have that FirstNet’s contracting muscle or force of law. Rather, it is a goal set by the NG9-1-1 NOW Coalition, a newly-formed alliance of public safety groups: NENA, the National Association of State 911 Administrators and the Industry Council for Emergency Response Technologies, and supported by the NG9-1-1 Institute, among others.

The coalition’s goal: “By the end of the year 2020, all 911 systems and centers in all 56 states and territories will have sufficiently funded, standards-based, end-to-end, IP-based 911 capabilities, and will have retired legacy 911 systems, without any degradation in service to the public.”

“It’s only logical to move NG9-1-1 out as quickly as possible,” says Brian Fontes, NENA’s chief executive officer, who says that NG911 is on track and that 2020 is a reachable goal that coincides with FirstNet’s goals. “We need to keep to the mantra of keeping NG9-1-1 going.”

Forgety agrees, calling the 2020 goal “aggressive but achievable.”

Roger Hixon, NENA’s technical issues director, says the momentum is powerful. “I don’t see anything that will cause people to pull away from it. The critical mass of support has been achieved and this is happening right now.”

With 70 to 80 percent of 911 calls coming from cell phones, Fontes says evolution to the next generation of 911 is a necessity. The public, he says, “cannot be served by continuing the legacy 911 system.”

The FirstNet program is actually adding momentum to the push for NG9-1-1 adoption, according to Laurie Flaherty, coordinator of the National 911 Program at the Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C.

“I would say in terms of [NG9-1-1] implementation, if you look at it, it would form a normal bell curve and we’re past the initial point,” says Flaherty. “There have been a number of early adopters. We’re going up the bell curve and we’re still on the upswing. There is certainly some sense of urgency about moving this forward.” With the advent of FirstNet, “we’re being pushed by both sides: one from the carriers [who want to upgrade their infrastructure] and now with FirstNet, we’re being pushed from the other side.”

Fortunately, the pushes are moving in the same direction – improving communications in nationwide emergency services.

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Fragmented 911 Networks Put Drag on Next-Generation Upgrades

Fragmented 911 Networks Put Drag on Next-Generation Upgrades

One of two 911 Call Centers in Collier County, Fla. Photo by David Silverberg

In emergency response, faster is always better and efficiency is always paramount.

But the 911 system that undergirds America’s emergency responders is a mish-mash of incompatible, often outdated systems and fragmented local jurisdictions. The combination makes an upgrade of the nation’s system with Next-Generation 911 (NG911) technology far more challenging in the years ahead.

“It has to do with how 911 grew up,” explains Laurie Flaherty, coordinator of the National 911 Program at the Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C.

“In the 1960s and ’70s, when this system was first set up … there was no way for any of the Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) to connect to each other,” Flaherty says. “It was just physically, technologically not possible.”

Today, there are some 5,899 primary and secondary PSAPs, or 911 call centers, according to the National Emergency Number Association, spread across the nation, each run by a separate political jurisdiction. Says Flaherty: “Up until very recently [they] have functioned as completely independent operations, because they had to.”

Now new technology allows PSAPs to share and interact as never before. But the lack of a cohesive future roadmap is frustrating efforts to upgrade systems nationwide. The Federal government is looking to the states, but most state governments leave NG911 upgrades to the checkerboard of local jurisdictions that manage 911 today.

The result: Upgrading the nation’s tangled 911 infrastructure is proving harder and moving more slowly, than if Federal or state leaders were more involved.

“The culture is not very collective – at least it has not been so until very recently,” Flaherty says. “With the advent of this digital IP-based infrastructure, all of a sudden, ideas like consistency, uniformity, collaboration and coordination become important in a way they never were before. The community worked together on a number of things previous to this, but certainly not to the extent that they do now.”

Clear data on the state of NG911 throughout the country is hard to find. When the National Highway Safety Administration surveyed the states in 2014, 16 states did not report any data at all. Exactly how much it will cost to upgrade the existing nationwide system is still anybody’s guess. The Federal Communications Commission launched a cost study in 2015, but a final report is not expected until 2017.

Nationwide, much if not most of NG911 activity takes place at the county and local level, eluding federal data collection.

Two counties – one in northern Virginia and one in Florida – illustrate the disparate paths local governments may take on the road to modernization.

Forging Ahead in Fairfax County, Va.
Spreading south and west of Washington, D.C., Fairfax County, Virginia, is among the nation’s richest counties. As part of the National Capital Region’s sovereign jurisdictions, it has the latest and best rescue equipment, procedures and practices, standing ready for any contingency from the personal to the catastrophic.

In 2015, the Fairfax County 911 program was named one of the nation’s 10 best 911 centers by 911DispatcherEDU.org, an independent educational website. Fairfax County 911 is aided by its critical location, the cooperative nature of its neighboring jurisdictions, its robust county funding and state and Federal grants from the Urban Area Security Initiative.

With more than 1.1 million people packed into just 407 square miles, about 400,000 calls to 911 are handled by Fairfax County each year. The numbers demonstrate the changing nature of emergency calls. In 2015, 81.4 percent of those calls came from cellular phones and 16.4 percent from landline phones. Though only 2.2 percent came from voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) phones, that figure is expected to increase.

The fact that most calls to 911 are now from cell phones is one of the biggest drivers behind NG911. Landlines are tied to specific street addresses. But cell phones by definition can be anywhere, and mobile callers may not be able to communicate their location to a 911 operator.

“The current 911 network does not allow for the transmission of geolocation coordinates from a mobile phone. This can result in the caller being transferred to the incorrect PSAP and simultaneously fails to provide accurate location information,” says Edward Naybor, vice president at General Dynamics Information Technology.

Keeping Up: Collier County, Fla.
If Fairfax County, Va., exemplifies a forward-looking, heavily invested and publicly supported modern system on the cusp of moving to NG911, Collier County, Fla., embodies what is more typical throughout much of the country, particularly the South.

More rural than Fairfax, Collier County 911 serves a third as many people in an area nearly six times as large. With about 340,000 people living in the county’s 2,305 square miles – 70 percent of which is protected parks, preserves and wildlife refuges – its two PSAPs received 167,000 calls to its 911 service in 2015. There were also 530,000 law enforcement calls and 52,000 fire and emergency medical calls. Of these, 14 percent were landline, 80 percent were cellular and 6 percent were voice over Internet. Collier was the first Florida county to integrate texting into its 911 system in June 2014 and logged 368 short message service (SMS) sessions last year.

Its 911 system is housed in a modern facility. The monitors and workstations are new and updated but in other ways, its emergency response system is behind the times: Some first responders here still use pagers.

Bob Finney, the technical manager overseeing Collier County’s 911 system, says technology is a priority for County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk. “[He] started as a dispatcher and he’s very communications- and technology-oriented,” Finney says. “He wants to be on the cutting edge of response.”

Under Rambosk, Collier County is upgrading and improving its emergency response capabilities. On January 26, it replaced its 17-year old dispatch system with a new computer-aided dispatch system that can deliver live updates from the 911 center and enhanced incident maps to first responders in their vehicles, providing insights like floor plans, details on hazardous materials, hydrant locations and shortest-distance routing. In August, the county’s 911 system will be linked to a separate PSAP serving the city of Naples, an independent jurisdiction within Collier County.

County communications managers would like to move to NG911 and hoping for Federal money. “Until the federal government comes up with money it will not happen in the state,” Finney says. “It’s frustrating.”

Florida has no overall strategy guiding NG911 implementation, leaving counties on their own. Many are banding together in regional groupings to coordinate and support their emergency response efforts. Collier County for example, joined with nine other counties along the western part of the state.

“We wanted to look to see how we could work together to provide common infrastructure,” Finney says. The 10 county 911 coordinators meet to discuss costs, maintenance and cooperation.

Similar regional groupings have developed to advance NG911 programs in southern Illinois and the state of Washington.

Facing the Future
On the national level, concern is growing about the state of emergency response systems.

“The public communications providers are trying to retire the old infrastructure,” Flaherty says. “More than one company has plans by 2020 to retire their old system in terms of how they deliver 911 calls. There’s some sense of urgency. But the challenges are not small in terms of the state and local governments moving forward.”

Wireless carriers want to proceed to NG911 and develop FirstNet. The FCC has also been working to advance the program. But progress has been slow. An FCC task force set up to settle on an optimal PSAP architecture for NG911 only recently completed its work.

“We’re seeing progress but not as fast we’d like to see it,” Flaherty says. “State and local governments are not flush, so finding the money to make the leap is difficult.”

An auction of spectrum planned by the FCC is expected to provide $115 million for NG911, but the auction will not take place for another year. A grant program will start taking applications around the same time.

Flaherty would like to see national-level efforts to at least sort out basic information: Amazingly, there is no centralized listing today of the nation’s PSAPs and their individual contact information.

Flaherty would also like to see more nationwide coordination: “If I had unlimited power to move this forward, one of the things I’d make happen is a discussion of what needs to be done at the national level – not necessarily at the federal level, the national level – in order to pull off a nationwide system.” A national effort would include every stakeholder: private companies, federal, state and local governments, non-profit organizations, think tanks and citizens.

“I have to believe that as much as the state and local governments are doing, if we’re going to achieve a seamless, nationwide system, there has to be some level of coordination at the national level,” she says.

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Navy Revising Training for the Sailor of the Future

Navy Revising Training for the Sailor of the Future

Readiness and a focus on the sailor will dominate Navy training and simulation for the future, Navy flag officers said earlier this month at the 2015 Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) in Orlando, Fla.

Rear Adm. Mike White, commander of the Naval Education and Training Command, began his remarks by referencing the Navy’s Sailor 2025 Initiative. The initiative, he said, allows the Navy to focus on a reasonable timeline for preparing for the next generation of sailors.

“Today’s second grader will be the sailor of 2025,” White said. “How will we provide engagement to that sailor?”

One answer, he said, is to get off what he called the escalator model of progressively more complex instruction and take a continuum approach, providing adaptive and changing learning. Instead of concentrating on training sailors to be proficient in a single specialty, as it has for generations, the Navy should also encourage a more diverse spectrum of study.

Another approach is to take advantage of mobile technology to bring experts to trainees, rather than the other way around. All of the military services are trying to find more efficient ways to deliver training where trainees are, rather than delivering trainees to conventional schoolhouses.

Rear. Adm. Mathias Winter, chief of naval research and director of Innovation, Technology Requirements and Test and Evaluation, noted that “one of the things that sometimes goes unnoticed is the warfighter performance.”

He’s focusing research attention on brain-based learning to develop greater understanding of skill development and comprehension, particularly the role of imitation. “We see and imitate,” Winter said. “Imitation is a form of learning.” The Navy now wants to develop that concept to create autonomous systems that can train naval personnel in any environment or condition.

He envisions using artificial intelligence (AI) to create digital tutors that can learn the characteristics of trainees and tailor training to the individual and craft personalized curricula.

“From a science perspective, think of a personal learning system that knows you better than you know yourself,” he said.

Also employing AI, the Navy is looking at the Intelligent Adaptive Computer-Generated Force, which uses to generate dynamic, fast-paced simulated scenarios. This allows analysts and commanders to “understand the what-ifs of warfighting,” testing different options and outcomes. “It is a force multiplier,” he said.

When it comes to teams, Augmented Immersive Team Training can simulate battlefield effects on combat teams. The Navy hopes to develop a blend of real and synthetic training using its year-old Fleet Integrated Synthetic Training/Testing Facility (FIST2FAC).

Undergirding all the technology and training initiatives will be naval acquisition, according to Rear. Adm. Dean Peters, commander of the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division and assistant commander for Research and Engineering at the Naval Air Systems Command.

Industry, said Peters, has a major role to play in working with the Navy, while commanders focus on readiness. At the same time it is taking a more active role in lead system integration and performing a greater share of the work of acquisitions in an effort to drive down costs.

“We’re getting away from multiple paths of risk,” he said, while still emphasizing industry’s critical role as a partner in Navy training and the service’s openness to industry feedback.

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