HomeNews & MediaFeatured StoriesSafeguarding Critical Infrastructure: APL Develops Aerial Technology for Homeland Security 

October 30, 2007

Safeguarding Critical Infrastructure: APL Develops Aerial Technology for Homeland Security

The Maryland State Police (MSP) Aviation Command, which regularly inspects important structures such as bridges, dams and power facilities as part of its homeland protection mission, is field testing an APL-developed aerial technology that will help them more accurately locate and evaluate their target structures.

The Critical Infrastructure Inspection Management System, or CIIMS (pronounced "sims"), is a pilot project designed to help aerial law-enforcement personnel efficiently manage and prioritize inspections through structured monitoring, data collection and information sharing within federal, state and local intelligence communities. CIIMS is funded by the Command, Control and Interoperability Division of the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate and field tested by MSP.

The computer-based tool, developed by APL, allows inspection teams to visualize their location and proximity to property being inspected, and provides them with a series of questions to guide them through the inspection process. The system is being designed so that any law enforcement aviation unit could use it, and for a potential extension to patrols by car, boat, train or on foot.

The CIIMS prototype was installed on an MSP helicopter and plane in late September and unveiled to the public during a joint media event on October 30 at Martin State Airport, east of Baltimore.

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This image, captured during a demonstration of an early CIIMS prototype using a flight simulator, shows a plane (green graphic) en route to conduct inspections of critical infrastructure in the Baltimore-Washington area. A CIIMS operator can insert "range" rings to help gauge distance remaining to his/her destination and/or critical infrastructure to be inspected.

The orange icons represent other air traffic in the area. The yellow globe indicates the plane's destination; the infrastructure closest to the plane based on its destination (Brighton Dam) appears as a solid red globe; the lighter red globe indicates another nearby infrastructure that could be inspected; and a white vertical line is drawn from the plane to the ground. All lines drawn from the plane to various objects serve to help inspection teams visually orient themselves when looking at the display.

Credit: The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Applying FAA Technology to Homeland Security

CIIMS leverages software called CRABS (Comprehensive Analysis of Real-time Broadcasting Systems), originally developed by APL to test and evaluate the new Federal Aviation Administration's GPS-based, air-traffic control system—Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast—that will be implemented by 2013.

"Through our ongoing relationship with DHS, we helped bridge the gap between them and the State Police needs," says D.J. Waddell, manager, APL's Homeland Protection programs. "The State Police recognized the CRABS technology's potential, and with guidance and funding from DHS S&T, the Laboratory leveraged the existing technology to develop a new system that can potentially benefit law-enforcement agencies nationwide."

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During an early CIIMS prototype demonstration using a flight simulator, a simulated Maryland State Police plane inspects Brighton Dam in Brookeville, Md.

Credit: The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

How It Works

The main component of CIIMS is a small notebook-sized computer called an electronic flight bag, which contains various maps, pictures and a list of questions pertaining to critical infrastructure that needs to be inspected, and touch-screen controls for retrieving information and recording observations during inspections.

Before a flight, the electronic flight bag is docked with a ground-based intelligence network so that information on the infrastructure to be inspected, related inspection questions and photos can be downloaded into the computer.

During a flight, the CIIMS device displays, in real time, icons representing local air traffic including the crew's aircraft position, which can be overlaid on a map as a visual aid to help the crew "see" an inspection scenario.

Once a CIIMS operator inputs the aircraft's destination, the system automatically creates a list of nearby sites that need to be inspected. Icons representing the crew's destination and nearby infrastructure are overlaid on the display's map.

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In this simulation, Maryland State Police crews are inspecting Brighton Dam in Brookeville, Md. Questions pertaining to this critical infrastructure are accessible via the "Patrol" button; operators answer "yes-" or "no-type" questions via touch-screen controls built into the flight bag, moving between questions by touching the "arrow" keys.

Credit: The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Color-coded lines and range rings help CIIMS users visually orient themselves or gauge distance to inspection sites and their final destination. Photos of the properties stored within the computer can also help the team easily recognize an infrastructure from the air. Once a crew is within sight of its selected inspection location, a list of questions — unique to each infrastructure — can be answered.

Back on the ground, the electronic flight bag is redocked with the ground network, and data acquired during the inspection are downloaded and shared with other law-enforcement personnel.

Addressing Homeland Protection Challenges

APL will continue to work with DHS and state police to improve the hardware and software for the CIIMS data-collection process. Through a series of workshops and meetings, DHS and APL will poll other state law-enforcement agencies, initially from the mid-Atlantic region of the country, to identify other potential capabilities that could further enhance the prototype for use by a broader law-enforcement community. The Laboratory will help DHS identify and evaluate other government software tools and/or systems that have critical infrastructure inspection-related applications.

In a parallel effort, APL is helping DHS better understand the needs and requirements within the intelligence community and define standardized interfaces and processes for a critical infrastructure protection architecture so that information collected during inspections can more easily be shared among federal, state and local agencies across the country.

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A Maryland State Police helicopter like this one, flying over Fort McHenry in Baltimore, is equipped with the CIIMS prototype.

Credit: Maryland State Police