By Mike Janes
In partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Sandia is designing and deploying a pilot alert and warning system that will provide a means to ensure effective public communications during a federal, state, or local emergency.
Known as the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), the program, which began piloting on August 1 in the midst of the 2007 hurricane season, is administered by FEMA for the Department of Homeland Security and is initially supporting several states and local jurisdictions in the US Gulf Coast region. IPAWS addresses the mandate and vision of Executive Order 13407 to ensure that the president can rapidly and effectively address and warn the public over a broad range of communications devices and under any conditions.
Transforming emergency alerts
IPAWS is designed to transform national emergency alerts from audio-only messages delivered over radios and televisions into a sophisticated, comprehensive system that can reliably and efficiently send alerts by voice, text, and video to all Americans, including those with disabilities or who cannot understand English. FEMA’s aim is to deliver targeted alerts and warnings over more communications devices to more people, anywhere, and at any time a disaster strikes.
FEMA’s current Emergency Alert System (EAS) has been in place since 1994, replacing the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) that launched in 1963. The EAS allows the president to transmit a national alert within 10 minutes to citizens, and it allows state and local government officials to send messages during nonfederal emergencies.
The IPAWS system will include an enhanced Web Alert and Relay Network (WARN) that provides emergency operations staff with collaboration tools, public access websites and alert and warning notification facilities. WARN also features an “opt-in” capability that allows citizens to sign up to receive alert messages via pagers, cell phones, email, and other communications devices. The WARN system includes an Emergency Telephone Notification component that provides automated calling of all residents in a selected geographic area, and a Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Notification System that provides information to the hearing impaired using American Sign Language videos on the Internet and on personal communication devices. Each of the pilot program technologies will be installed and tested through December 2007, while FEMA will seek additional funding for further piloting in 2008.
Develop and deploy
“At Sandia, IPAWS is a clear New Mexico//California collaboration,” says Ron Glaser (6464), who is serving as the Labs’ program manager for IPAWS. Technical teams, led by Ron’s Systems Engineering group, with expertise from 5610, 6320, 6450, 6460, 8110, 8520, 8960, and 9510, are working together to develop and deploy the initial IPAWS capability.
Specifically, says Ron, Sandia is creating the secure architecture, standards, protocols, and methodologies for message security and distribution of alerts and warnings. Sandia is also developing the certification program for companies to qualify for access to the IPAWS communications framework. The architecture and messaging standards developed through this program will be fed back to standards-setting organizations, such as OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards).
Pilot activities this summer
The lab will be demonstrating and evaluating IPAWS components during pilot activities this summer. WARN, the first IPAWS component, integrates existing vendor-supplied technologies to provide a warning capability that could be used during this year’s hurricane season. The initial rollout, led by Jeff Jortner (8962), became operational August 1.
“Because Sandia doesn’t have a technology dog in this fight, we’re seen by FEMA as an honest broker,” says Jeff. “We understand the technology that we’re integrating, but at the same time we have no product or service we’re trying to sell. That gives us unique credibility in the eyes of our sponsors.” Sandia has selected several subcontractors to assist in technology deployment for the IPAWS WARN system, including MyStateUSA, NuParadigm Foundation, Warning Systems Inc., and others.
Lab analysts at Sandia are also working with emergency management staff in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Mexico to understand specific message targeting capabilities and needs, and various public alert and warning communication options for multiple communities of interest across federal, state, local, and tribal organizations.
“Our discussions with the New Mexico-based communities of interest, which have included emergency operations managers from Bernalillo County, the city of Albuquerque, and the state of New Mexico, have been particularly valuable,” says Heidi Ammerlahn (8962).
Those jurisdictions have raised several issues that researchers otherwise may not have been aware of, she says. Some local officials, for instance, may not think so much about technology itself but rather about whether individuals without technology training will be able to take advantage of IPAWS features and actually use the system properly.
Sandia enjoys a long history in the design and development of command, communication, and control systems. Its federal customers include the US Northern Command, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and the Department of Defense.
Jill Hruby (8100), who directs the Labs’ Center for Homeland Security and Defense Systems, says Sandia’s work on IPAWS may be a harbinger of things to come.
“Though this the first major project on communications architecture and information surety for DHS, it likely won’t be the last,” says Jill. “If we continue to be successful with this project, I think there are other opportunities to use this same architecture for other complex communication systems that require a high degree of interoperability and a high degree of data validation.” -- Mike Janes
By Patti Koning
George Lasche (6418) never imagined his career as a physicist would take him into the shipping business. On Oct. 6, 2006, he stood on the Golden Gate Bridge and watched proudly as the SS Lurline of Matson Lines passed underneath. On the ship were four containers prominently marked with the Sandia thunderbird logo.
“The captain and crew waved when they saw me on the bridge and saluted with a long blast of the horn,” George recalls. “I saluted back. It was gorgeous, a wonderful moment.”
This departure was the first of eight planned round-trip voyages for a project testing the Experimental Limits for In-Transit Detection of Radiological Materials, funded by the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office within the Department of Homeland Security.
The goal of the project is to determine if it would be feasible to deploy on-ship systems that can reliably detect radiological/nuclear materials while at sea with an extremely low probability of a false alarm.
“These two goals require that we learn as much as possible about the environment in which these systems are being designed and deployed,” says George.
The approach is to ship a selected variety of advanced radiation detection equipment amongst a large sampling of actual cargo in container ships while at sea. These include high-purity germanium (HPGe) gamma-ray detectors, bonner-spheres neutron spectrometers, a fission meter multiplicity detector, muon-neutron correlation detection suites, and environmental detection suites.
In some shipments, selected radiation sources also are shipped to characterize radiation transmission through cargo at a range of energies spanning the natural radiation spectrum.
Radiation detection at sea is, in a sense, uncharted territory. While much research has been done detecting radiation on land, the sea presents an entirely different environment — one with significantly less background noise.
Challenges of detection at sea unique
Detection at sea is also unique because constraints on size and weight may not apply. Land-based detection systems are typically embedded into some physical aspect of a port, such as a drive-through portal or crane. A detector enclosed in a container could weigh up to 40,000 pounds.
Time is another factor. While land-based detection usually happens within a few seconds, ship-based detection has days in which to seek out a source. The project uses the longest domestic route available, from Oakland to Honolulu, which takes four days.
“The ability to detect and interdict nuclear material on ships could keep such threats from ever reaching our shores,” says Bill Ballard (8100), Radiological/Nuclear Countermeasures Program manager. “We don’t know if this is the final answer — this project is examining the feasibility of such detection on a large scale.”
This project is a collaboration on many levels. Though Sandia leads the project, the detectors come from Sandia, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), and the Environmental Measurements Laboratory.
The equipment, George says, is far more costly than anyone could afford to deploy in regular commerce. But using such sophisticated, highly sensitive equipment will enable the researchers to characterize the radiation environment at sea and properly design less expensive detectors.
At the same time, LLNL and PNNL are using data collected by Sandia to develop and test computer models for radiation detection at sea.
“Few people believe computer models until they have been proven. If we get similar answers using two different approaches, it will build confidence,” says George.
He recently launched the seventh round-trip voyage of his special containers. Each voyage begins at the high bay at Sandia/California’s Micro and Nano Technologies Laboratories (MANTL), which last year was retrofitted to accommodate up to six 40-foot shipping containers and everything being loaded into them. Once loaded, the containers are trucked 30 minutes west to the Port of Oakland.
So far the project has run extremely smoothly with very intriguing results, George says. He attributes a good part of that success to the strong partnership with the shipping company.
'A wholehearted commitment'
“Matson Shipping Lines responded with a wholehearted commitment all the way from the vice presidents to ship electricians in the spirit of helping us solve our problems, instead of just figuring out how to deal with them,” he says.
Every ship’s captain volunteered to carry GPS equipment in the bridge, allowing the researchers to coordinate where the ships were at every moment in time. Those locations could then be correlated with any phenomena shown in experiments.
George recalls that one captain was so concerned the GPS equipment had failed that he had his first mate write down by hand every position recorded during the voyage.
This data on location proved invaluable when all of the detectors registered a gain drift. On the voyage west to Hawaii, the line of potassium moved slightly up and then fell slightly on the return trip.
According to George, his team determined the gain drift was driven by temperature. As a result, any instrument deployed would have to be calibrated enroute. If done computationally, this is feasible because measurements were taken every 15 minutes and the gain drift showed itself over a longer period of time.
The significance of this project lies in the fact that all experiments are conducted in a real shipping environment.
“We’re testing among what people actually ship, which is not always what one would expect to see,” says George. “A lot of manifests simply read FAK, for Freight of All Kinds.”
For example, a huge signature of potassium 40 was detected on one of the more recent shipments. With the help of Matson, the Sandia researchers discovered that the detector picking up the signature was nestled between two containers filled with fertilizer composed of potassium nitrite.
Another surprise was the detection of a weak signature of uranium in all of the first shipments. George says the uranium signal was so pure it appeared to be inside Sandia’s own containers. It turns out the background environment at sea is so quiet compared with that of land that the detectors were sensing the minute amount of natural uranium found in most aluminum.
“We’ve gotten rid of the aluminum in our containers, so now I expect we’ll see all the uranium in beer cans traveling from Oakland to Hawaii,” says George. “Any instrument in a real deployment must be able to discriminate innocent uranium from threatening uranium.”
Originally eight round-trips were planned, but the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has added several more trips so that a neutron scatter camera can be included with the experiments. This is a testament to the success of the project and the value of the neutron scatter camera, which was developed at Sandia/California.
“It’s so good to be out with the public doing something for the national defense — working with real instruments in real environments is a refreshing change from office work,” George says. “This is one of the most rewarding projects of my life.”
About two years ago the high bay in Building 942 at the California site, in the group of buildings known as the Micro and Nano Technologies Laboratories (MANTL), faced an uncertain future.
The building’s interior was demolished in preparation to become a facility for LIGA (a lithography, electroplating, and molding technique). When the LIGA project was canceled abruptly, the space lay empty for quite some time.
Early last year, John Didlake (8229) began looking at the space for Work for Others projects such as SNIFFER and the Explosives Detection System. Then in June 2006, George Lasche (6418) won funding from the Defense Nuclear Detection Office for an in-transit radiation detection project that would require a lot of space.
A perfect fit
George needed to load and unload up to eight 40-foot shipping containers for a total of eight round-trip journeys from Oakland, Calif., to Honolulu. Originally, he considered renting space close to the Port of Oakland, which is what is done in Hawaii.
John saw a perfect fit between the empty building and George’s containers. The space is unique in that it is a large indoor space in an unclassified area and close to a major port.
“This would be a difficult project to do outside in someone else’s parking lot,” says John. “We have the space to accommodate the containers and are located 30 minutes from Oakland.”
In about July 2006, discussions began about changing the purpose of the MANTL high bay into Sandia/California Container Terminal (SCCT). At that point the building had no electricity and mothballed cranes with a 6-ton capacity, which is only adequate to lift empty containers.
John describes the process of transforming the SCCT into a port of call as a “just-in-time” endeavor. The electricity was restored on a Saturday, the retrofitted 10-ton cranes were certified on Monday, and container assemblies began on Tuesday.
With a lot of coordination and teamwork led by Scott Keith (85141), Lynn McClellan (8523), Terry Spraggins (8523), Grace Miranda (8523), and the receiving staff, George was able to hit his Oct. 6, 2006, deadline for the first shipment. The project has been extended to at least two more shipments beyond the original eight.
Nicholas Mascarenhas (8132) has a neutron scatter project funded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that will be on later shipments. John is hopeful DHS will continue using the SCCT for container research projects.
The irony of a facility filled with 40-foot shipping containers in a site known for micro- and nano-scale work is not lost on John.“Actually, we are 1.8 x 10-6 the size of the Port of Singapore,” he says. “So we really are a micro terminal in comparison with a real port.”
-- Patti Koning
By Mike Janes
Peanut butter and jelly. Wine and cheese. Dinner and a movie. Some things just naturally go together.
But national security and video games? At first glance, those two aren’t exactly a soft brie and a glass of merlot in terms of compatibility. If Sandia computer scientist and software engineer Donna Djordjevich (8116) has her way, however, perhaps today’s video game-loving youth will become our next generation’s terrorist-fighting scientist, largely due to the game development skills he or she will have learned at Sandia.
Donna is principal investigator of a Laboratory Directed Research and Development project titled “Game Technology-Enhanced Simulation for Homeland Security,” more commonly known as “Ground Truth,” which immerses its users in an interactive gaming environment specifically designed as a training tool for first responders. The program was funded and started in October 2006.
Tapping into video gaming culture
Modeling, simulation, and, yes, gaming, have been around Sandia for years. But Donna, a self-described “obsessive-compulsive gamer,” is a true believer who suggests Sandia could do even more to take advantage of the video game culture, perhaps even integrating gaming in a formal way into the Labs’ homeland security program activities and elsewhere.
“Video games are progressive, intuitive, accessible, and immersive,” says Donna, making them an ideal framework for training and learning. Firemen, police officers, and other first responders, she asserts, are used to being “on the scene” of an incident, so gaming mechanisms that thrust users into a “real” environment are a great fit for training purposes.
Donna started playing her first video game — Super Mario Brothers on the original Nintendo — at age six, on a system purchased by her parents but intended for her brother. She says the “interactive simulation-based” interface offered by video games is more effective than the “press play, then walk away” style of video training.
Ground Truth is part of the “real-time strategy” genre of video games and an example of the “serious games” movement. A 2006 article in the New York Times titled “Saving the World, One Video Game at a Time” asserts that this new generation of video games “can be more than just mindless fun, they can be a medium for change . . . [The movement] is a partnership between advocates and nonprofit groups that are searching for new ways to reach young people, and tech-savvy academics keen to explore video games’ educational potential.”
Visually similar to SimCity
Visually, Ground Truth looks somewhat like the popular “SimCity” city-building simulation game, with a nameless urban environment at the center of the action.
The current scenario involves a chlorine spill; users are required to move pieces around — much like a chess game — in order to best mitigate the consequences of the incident. They can choose from various functional “pieces,” including firefighters, police officers, hazmat teams, or they can activate staging and medical staging areas. If an accident scene requires a roadblock to divert traffic, for example, a user might choose to send the police to the area. Medical staging might be engaged to treat victims, though users need to keep an eye on any toxic fogs that could impact the success of the operation. A “progress thermometer” in the upper right-hand corner of the computer screen helps them gauge the success of their moves. The game takes roughly 20 minutes to play.
Designed for incident commanders
In its current form, says Donna, Ground Truth is designed for high-level incident commanders who need to understand how to best allocate their resources (hence the “big-picture” aerial view on the screen). The game also educates users on the dangers faced by on-scene emergency responders. Those playing the game, for instance, quickly learn that only certain responders are able to wear personal protective gear, so “you don’t want to be sending your police officers into an area where they might face a cloud of toxic gas.” Future scenarios, Donna hopes, will aim to engage personnel who actually respond to scenes, as well as involving decision-makers at higher levels and jurisdictions.
Donna plans to incorporate feedback from authentic emergency response personnel into Ground Truth. Although details were unavailable when Lab News went to press, an August 8 visit to Sandia/California by members of the Alameda County Public Health Department was scheduled, during which a Ground Truth demonstration was planned.
Roughly 10 Sandia staff members, says Donna, are working on Ground Truth, with additional programming, graphics, and animation work being conducted by the University of Southern California’s GamePipe Laboratory (which is hosted by the university’s Viterbi School of Engineering). The project is in its first year of a three-year LDRD commitment.
Though she’s focusing on the work at hand, Donna can’t help but imagine bigger and better things with Ground Truth and the video gaming arena at Sandia.
While Ground Truth may one day become a licensable product that comes on DVD, she envisions DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff being won over by a demonstration and demanding that the program be endorsed, paid for, and delivered by DHS to first responders all over the country. “Then maybe we’ll be ready to launch Sandia’s Center for Interactive Gaming Applications,” she says with a laugh. -- Mike Janes