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[Sandia Lab News]

Vol. 56, No. 24                Nov. 26, 2004
[Sandia National Laboratories]

Albuquerque, New Mexico 87185-0165    ||   Livermore, California 94550-0969
Tonopah, Nevada; Nevada Test Site; Amarillo, Texas

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El Paso police, Sandia working together on high-tech approach to law enforcement, forensics investigations How Sandians helped keep radioactive materials from terrorists at Olympics Sandia, National Instruments build versatile wireless sensor platform for use by scientists, engineers  

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El Paso police, Sandia working together on high-tech approach to law enforcement, forensics investigations

By Will Keener

"El Paso Crime Scene Investigations" may not have the glitter of "CSI: Miami," but it has some technology and an approach to technology that many in law enforcement very much admire. Through the help of the Border Research and Technology Center (BRTC) - operated by Sandia from offices in San Diego, Calif. - and some strong local initiative, this department in a city of 600,000 citizens is providing national leadership.

"In the area of teleforensics, the El Paso Police Department is the pathfinding agency," says Sandia's Chris Aldridge (4142), who is BRTC director. Chris and the center, with National Institute of Justice funding, helped the El Paso department get started with some equipment in 1999. From there, Commander Michael Czerwinsky and his team have taken the project to new levels.

For Chris, the BRTC is a way to work with a multitude of law enforcement and legal agencies to strengthen technology capabilities and awareness. The BRTC is part of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center system, a program of the research and development arm of the Department of Justice. The work in El Paso is a success story for the effort.

When the El Paso Police Department first received camera equipment through the BRTC program, Czerwinsky was a lieutenant in the city's vice unit, which sought to use the equipment to provide better evidence for prosecution. Working with Sgt. Darwin Armitage, a detective in the unit known affectionately as "Radar," the vice team put the equipment to work with a bang. In its first test, a detective transmitted a conversation at a bar with a tiny camera hidden in a pager, while Armitage sat in the lobby nearby and watched and recorded the entire transaction for evidence using a briefcase full of equipment, including a small monitor.

"Our old equipment was bulky, hard to hide, costly, and expensive to maintain," says Armitage, who worked with Sandia's Richard Sparks (4142) to put the so-called "Investigators Toolkit" into use. "The new equipment had all the pieces, time-and-date stamps, recording units, cameras, transmitters and everything was off the shelf."

The resulting improved evidentiary tapes drastically curtailed (by about 50 percent) the number of vice cases going to court, generating instead an increase in plea bargain cases. "This had a direct impact on our operations," says Czerwinsky. "From there things just snowballed."

Enter teleforensics

Moving to major crime investigations with his promotion to captain, Czerwinsky pressed Armitage to develop the technology for forensics use. The idea was to use the same concept, transferring the technology to major crime scenes. To improve investigations and avoid crime scene contamination, a crime scene tech would wirelessly transmit a video feed to a nearby command post where the investigators could view it. Radar's first attempt, a camera mounted on a lanyard, was disappointing. After some experimenting, he developed the concept of attaching a transmitter to a handheld video camera, where the scene could be surveyed, objects could be looked at closely by zooming, and a record could be made without touching any objects. This proved a major step forward. One strong plus was that detectives outside the scene could direct the recording. The first use of the technology on an actual homicide case proved to be "a home run," says Czerwinsky.

Detectives outside a victim's home, observing the scene on a monitor, noticed some mail on a desk and asked the recording technician to zoom in. A return address on one of the letters identified a person incarcerated at an out-of-state detention facility. This in turn provided investigators a possible motive early in the investigation. This kind of success has also helped convince long-time investigators of the power of the tool, says Czerwinsky. "They are often cautious, and rightfully so, about new technology, especially at a major crime scene."

Taping at another multiple homicide scene revealed more pluses for the technology. "In a homicide the first 24 to 48 hours are critical to solving a case, and this is a tool that helps save time on a number of fronts," says Czerwinsky. The tape provides help to both the field investigators and those conducting interviews away from the site, helping them to get a better idea of what happened. "You can't articulate some of this information without the video," Czerwinsky notes.

At a scene now, with the addition of a special SUV mobile command center and 27-inch monitor, the recording technician can transmit information to help the crime scene unit determine what special resources may be needed, help detectives understand what happened and when, and help others, such as medical examiners, speed their work. "The bottom line is it accelerates the investigation. Like those television commercials, it's priceless to us. You can't replace lost time," Czerwinsky says

Phase 3: Critical events

As a police commander, Czerwinsky took the camera technology toward what he calls "phase three," just after the Columbine High School tragedy. Armitage, in consultation with Richard Sparks, developed a pole camera (for peeking around corners) and a helmet camera as extensions of the original Investigator's Toolkit. The two devices, with implications for riots, hostage situations, or other critical events, were tested at a mock high school hostage exercise. This tool provides important information at critical incidents, as "what the SWAT officer sees" is transmitted to a command post to supplement the decision-making process. "It's an invaluable tool when split-second decisions have to be made," Czerwinsky says.

Armitage is also working to expand the reach of the information, both in increasing transmission range in the field and by using the department's intranet capabilities. Although he's demonstrated the intranet potential with assistance from the department's information technology staff and some borrowed equipment, issues remain with securing the information through some type of encryption.

Cost has been a driving force in all of these efforts, the two officers note. "Too often law enforcement agencies are slaves to vendors," says Czerwinsky. "They show us what products they have and we choose. Working with BRTC has been more of a 'What do you want?' arrangement. We want plug-and-play equipment that we can build upon for different needs. We want inexpensive equipment that will interface and not several proprietary competing systems."

While the department's pole camera, adapted with the Investigator's Toolkit equipment and a collapsing painter's handle from a local hardware store, cost a few dollars, similar kits offered through law enforcement vendors sell for $3,000. Because 80 percent of US law enforcement agencies have 50 or fewer officers, "a place with 25 deputies just isn't going to have the budget for most of this expensive stuff," Czerwinsky says. He and Armitage have pointed this out on national webcasts to law enforcement agencies and at a number of national and regional meetings.

"The center is a place where you have the labs and where we have a national law enforcement technology council. These people speak our language. This is where it is coming together. Chris Aldridge and Richard Sparks have been instrumental in opening doors for us," Czerwinsky says.
-- Will Keener

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How Sandians helped keep radioactive materials from terrorists at Olympics

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By Chris Burroughs

With the excitement of the August summer Olympics in Athens a memory, Sandians who helped make the two-week event safe are now telling about their involvement.

“We maintained a low profile but were involved for at least a year in advance,” says Bill Rhodes, Manager of International Physical Protection Program Dept. 6952.

His team was responsible for assisting Greek officials in developing ways to protect radioactive sources. The fear was that terrorists could access them and turn them into dirty bombs, possibly to be dispersed at the Olympics.

Nearly a year before the Olympics in the summer of 2003, officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Greek Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC) contacted the NNSA seeking assistance in securing radioactive sources in areas where the Olympics were to be held. NNSA turned to Sandia, which has worked with several countries to assess the vulnerability of radioactive materials and help design physical security upgrades.
Bill, together with a representative of NNSA, traveled to Greece, visiting two major areas — Athens and Thesselonki.

“In Greece, like in most countries, much of the radioactive materials are found in hospitals,” Bill says. “As a result we visited several hospitals and studied various types of equipment.”

In one hospital he saw a blood irradiator that looked like “half a telephone booth.” It was used to make blood safe for transfusions. While it weighed a lot, the irradiator could be stolen, Bill says. Another medical facility had a unit that used cobalt to sterilize medical supplies.

In these instances and several others, primarily at oncology and hematology clinics, he noted actions that could be taken to protect the radiological materials from theft.

Upon his return to the US, Bill assembled a team to assist in the design of physical upgrades. Fred Harper (4117) and Paul McConnell (6143) were tapped to train Greek personnel on how to safeguard materials. Others — Mark Bishop (5934), Michelle Kent (6951), Dan Lowe, Keith Young (6962), Scottie Walker, and Gene Hauser (both 6952) — were responsible for assisting in the actual design of physical upgrades. Amy Ellington (10257) was the procurement specialist.

“The team went to Greece and provided technical support,” Bill says. “We worked with contractors there who actually did the work, like installing sensors and alarm systems."

In Greece the Sandians reviewed facilities operations — including administrative procedures for source storage, transport, and tracking of radioactive materials — and recommended a number of procedural changes to improve total system effectiveness. Among their recommendations was a comprehensive physical security upgrade at sites that included the installation of sensors and videos systems to detect intrusion. They also recommended that high-security locks be installed at doors to limit access and new security alarms be coordinated with local law enforcement.

The Sandians worked with the Greek contractors as peers. “We taught them about physical security and they taught us about their country,” he says.
While the Olympics are over, Keith remains in contact with the GAEC and currently has a contract to continue to study security system performance issues and to do a “lessons learned” assessment for the Olympics project.

In working with the Greek government to secure radiological devices, Bill and his team were performing Dept. 6952’s mission — protecting weapon-usable nuclear material worldwide against theft and misuse. Besides Greece, Sandia has worked in Lithuania, Russia, Greece, Tanzania, Iraq, Egypt, and Jordan on radiological threat reduction activities.
.-- Chris Burroughs

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Sandia, National Instruments build versatile wireless sensor platform for use by scientists, engineers

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By Nancy Garcia

Sandia and National Instruments, a test-and-measurement pioneer, just completed a two-year cooperative research and development agreement to build a modular, moderately low-power, LabVIEW platform for embedded systems and wireless sensor research.

“We wanted something that we could use to enhance our capability to respond to any emerging threats,” says Richard Jennings (8232), who worked on the project with Ron Kyker (8245) and Marius Ghercioiu of National Instruments. The Austin, Texas-based company’s key software product is LabVIEW, a graphical programming language that allows users to point and click to integrate data acquisition hardware and analyze and display the results.

“We applied the modular functionality of a desktop system (motherboard with plug-in cards) to an embedded system to provide configurability, flexibility, and upgradability,” Ron says.

The instantly reconfigurable, stackable platform is available to users at Sandia to design their own applications. Richard says it is appropriate to rapidly build demonstration proof-of-concept battery-operated field test units that might be used to sense environmental conditions or chemical or biological agents.

“This is really the first thing that’s designed for scientists and engineers who want to focus on their core competency rather than learn to create hardware or software to deploy a wireless sensor. It’s something we have uniquely at Sandia right now.” If you are interested in developing an application here, call Richard at (925) 294-2696.

Richard is a LabVIEW expert who builds embedded systems using LabVIEW. Ron provided input for making the platform modular. For the telemetry department application, the platform provided the next step down from a traditional data acquisition system hooked to a computer in the lab. Instead, the platform has its own processor and a multichannel flash data storage card that provides both input and output modes.

“This will let you hook up to just about anything,” Richard says. Combined with LabVIEW, users get the flexibility of a programming language without the complexity of traditional development tools. -- Nancy Garcia


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Last modified: November 25, 2004

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