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NPS Leads Collaborative Effort to Inspire Innovation Across Government, Beyond

Article By: Kenneth A. Stewart

The Naval Postgraduate School’s Joint Interagency Field Exploration (JIFX) program brought together more than 400 researchers, scientists, first responders and military personnel, Aug. 5-8, to conduct a flurry of experiments and evaluations at the California National Guard’s Camp Roberts facility in southern Monterey County, Calif.

“We have things flying, crawling and moving in ways that the federal government never imagined … This is a collaborative learning environment,” said Field Experimentation Director, Associate Professor Ray Buettner with the NPS Department of Information Sciences.  

National and international JIFX participants converged upon the remote Central California facility to leverage the collective of defense-related intellectual capital unique to the event.

Experimental technologies – with names like “The Squid” and “The Crowd and the Machine” – sat side-by-side with “wrist watch” gadgets that not only tell time, they also link-up with robotic sensors and provide users with advanced situational awareness (SA). Add a barrage of energy-efficiency technologies and structural design products along with unmanned aerial devices of diverse shapes and sizes, and you have an environment where the solutions to some of national and homeland security’s most pressing challenges can be perfected.

“Everyone out here is someone the government believes may be able to help solve a problem,” said Buettner. “I don't know of any other place in the government that brings together these kinds of people, and offers this many opportunities for interaction.”

JIFX organizers describe the event as an “über-partnership” between the government, civilian entities and academia, where innovative thinkers across several bureaucratic boundaries come together to … innovate.

“We step outside our government roles by creating a shared space that brings together diverse groups that can collaborate or receive feedback from an audience of potential end-users,” said Buettner.

NPS Research Associate Gerald “Scotty” Scott is studying the processes of the event itself in an attempt to break down barriers, improve government efficiency and maximize the knowledge gleaned from the weeklong event.

“My research is based on how to best use the information here … It is focused on how I manage an environment like this and get the most use out of it,” said Scott. “I want this to be a driver of change within our government.”

 “JIFX helps us to see what is already out there, in lieu of embarking upon an expensive government acquisition project,” added John Verrico with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate. “The companies get honest firsthand feedback from end-users without fear of compromise or premature judgment … this helps to shorten the acquisition process.”

JFIX participants and their associated experiments were organized under the umbrellas of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), command and control (C2), humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR), electronic warfare, and deployable infrastructures.

Camp Roberts is a military facility, but it would be a mistake to characterize the JIFX event as a purely military operation. DHS’ Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and their FEMA Corps, has been a major participant, as were high school and college students through various science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, internship programs.  In addition, several students attended via the Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program, a competitive program for high-achieving high school applicants with grade point averages between 3.8 and 4.0.

 Thomas Vaneck with Physical Sciences, Inc. flies an InstantEye unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) at the Joint Interagency Field Exploration (JIFX) event led by the Naval Postgraduate School, Aug. 5-8. The InstantEye team was evaluating an onboard sensor to detect and map cellular connectivity for possible use in disaster scenarios. Held quarterly, JIFX creates a unique learning environment where technologies that have the potential to rapidly increase military capability are evaluated by DOD personnel, and simultaneously examined for use across a broad spectrum of domestic and civil security issues.

But FEMA wasn’t at Camp Roberts just to support their internship programs … Officials from the agency representing first responders across the spectrum explored everything from mobile network mapping technology to rapidly deployable housing and C2 structures. Much of FEMA’s interest was piqued by new technologies centered on HA/DR operations and solutions.

“HA/DR is very active out here … What they are learning is good for us, especially in light of the current budgetary restraints,” said Buettner. “It’s not all about things that fly and shoot, it’s also about finding non-kinetic solutions to non-kinetic problems.”

FEMA Chief Innovation Advisor Desiree Matel-Anderson has been working with NPS researchers, JIFX organizers and her DHS colleagues to encourage a culture of innovation within her own organization – something she hopes will lead to workable HA/DR and homeland security solutions.

“We are building up a culture of innovation with community input … We are looking at maximizing the great ideas that are festering in the organization,” said Matel-Anderson. “By working with JIFX, we are able to test some of those great Ideas.

“Disaster recovery teams are in the field right now working with people … We want to work with a ‘whole of community’ response to aiding disaster survivors,” she continued.

The term “whole of community” was heard repeatedly throughout JIFX as FEMA participants pursued potential HA/DR applications.

“’Whole of community’ means inviting everyone, not just the government and FEMA, but the communities themselves, the Red Cross, local governments and the private sector, all to work together and help one another,” said DHS/FEMA Corps member Laura Hazeltine.

Dr. Timothy Chung, an Assistant Professor with the NPS Department of Systems Engineering, describes the on board intelligence of the Unicorn unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) during a Joint Interagency Field Exploration (JIFX) event held by the Naval Postgraduate School, Aug. 5-8. Chung’s research team hopes to utilize the Unicorn, and its autonomous capabilities, to demonstrate how only a few ground operators can command up to 50 aircraft simultaneously. 

FEMA’s explorations also crept into one of JIFX’s center-stage experimentation efforts … leveraging the power of social media and crowdsourcing during disaster recovery operations.

“We are looking at how we can harness social media to get to survivors on the ground,” said Matel-Anderson.

But FEMA employees are not simply collecting data; they are exploring the potential of enlisting the public’s help in reaching disaster survivors through crowdsourcing.   

“It’s part of an open government concept where we share information that we receive with the community and seek their assistance,” said FEMA Business Management Division Director Carlos Davila. “We are concerned with how we can rapidly identify survivors and find out what they need and ensure that their needs are met.”

One of the advantages to the JIFX approach is the ability to reveal solutions from individual technologies that were not initially designed to address those problems.

In one example of technological crossover, FEMA Corps volunteers recently used hand-held mobile devices to conduct survivor registration during HA/DR operations in Moore, Okla. In the process, they were also able to map cell phone connectivity, creating a “heat map” that could be used by HA/DR personnel to reach survivors.

The hand-held devices utilized by FEMA Corps employees incorporated JIFX-featured applications that can be built to suit the needs of disaster recovery personnel.

“We can build and design an app in a matter of minutes to meet your needs,” said Anthony Quartararo with Spatial Networks, Inc. “We can use our ad hoc software to build or modify apps to your specifications anywhere in the world.”

And these are applications that are not overly complex, and can be utilized by young FEMA Corps members fresh out of high school.

“I have been with FEMA Corps since February … It's been a wonderful experience,” said corps member Allison Walker. “We spent two months in New York during Hurricane Sandy and had to learn a lot a bout public assistance, hazard mitigation and emergency management in action.”

“Its exciting to see the quality of our FEMA Corps team – the future of FEMA – as they go out into the community and work to identify survivor needs,” added Davila.

Another featured JIFX initiative with HA/DR applications is an attempt by military engineers to replace the old Barracks Huts, or B-Huts, that service members have been using since WWII with new modular structures that can be quickly assembled and used for either shelter or work spaces.

The U.S. Army Engineer Research Development Center (ERDC) and the Department of Homeland Security developed the new Structural Insulated Panel, or SIP Hut. According to ERDC, it can be built in just five squad hours, using two skilled leaders with unskilled labor, and can provide substantially reduced energy demand, reduced construction time, reduced construction footprints, and improved quality of life.

“We have a solution to a problem,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Steven D. Hart. “It takes eight service members six hours to construct one of these structures, and each structure can house up to 12 men.”

“The SIP Hut, because of its rapid constructability and low energy footprint, is well suited for disaster relief applications and other emergency housing needs,” added Hart.

In addition to emerging technologies in HA/DR mission support, a mainstay at the quarterly JIFX events has more direct military applications. Research into all areas of diverse unmanned aerial platforms has been an important part of the JIFX experimentation program since its inception.

NPS Department of Systems Engineering Associate Professor Timothy Chung has been working with a squadron of Unicorn UAVs with a goal of a single operator controlling a “swarm” of up to 50 aircraft.

“Swarming is the notion of having multiple agents that work in a coordinated manner to achieve some sort of objective,” explained Chung. “With the expanding presence of unmanned systems, we need to start thinking about scenarios where we or an adversary might start using large groups of these unmanned systems in a combined way.

“Even if enemy drones are not sophisticated, they might be able to overwhelm U.S. air defenses. It’s like a tennis match between a professional and a first grader,” explained Chung. “No first-grader could possibly beat a professional tennis player, but if 50 kids were lobbing balls onto your court, you would have a hard time defending against them.”

Another system that received considerable attention was InstantEye, a quad-rotor based UAV that can fly both vertically and horizontally at speeds of up to 30 mph.

“If you need eyes above, this will give them to you very quickly, within 30 seconds, and with 30 minutes of flight time,” said Thomas Vaneck with InstantEye creator, Physical Sciences Inc.

In spite of the broad diversity of the technologies being evaluated at JIFX, there is one commonality … the majority of them were first developed to meet national defense needs. But like many defense technologies throughout history, they have the potential to provide tremendous benefit to homeland security and civilian applications as well.

Blossoming areas of study for future JIFX events, especially relevant in Monterey County’s fertile Salinas Valley and the state’s wine country, are public health and agricultural applications for UAVs. Sensors are being developed that can detect pathogen-carrying, crop-destroying pests, as well as sensors that monitor the temperature, moisture and other data necessary for optimal growth.

As the quarterly JIFX program continues providing a forum for the rapid development and deployment of defense-related solutions and technologies, along the way will be the discovery of solutions to myriad challenges, from HA/DR operations to the multi-billion dollar Central California agriculture industry.

Posted August 21, 2013

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