Bowie State University (BSU) in Bowie, MD, started out primarily as a teacher training college 149 years ago. Over the years, the university increased its focus on science and technology and is now considered a leader among higher education institutions in multi-disciplined, project-based learning that incorporates the arts and humanities in solving technical challenges. Recently, the university has been working to leverage state-of-the-art technology to help solve “real-world” problems in the areas of homeland security. This includes the development of mobile applications to benefit public safety and first responders.
BSU’s Maryland Center, a nonprofit affiliate of the University System of Maryland (USM), launched the Education Innovation Initiative (EI2) program in the spring of 2013. The program is a collaboration between BSU, Prince George’s County Government (MD), and Prince George’s County Public Schools. The idea behind the program was to partner with Prince George’s County schools on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to give underrepresented students insight into various career paths.
The center is collaborating with the State of Maryland Interoperability Office on an EI2 project to evaluate mobile applications to improve first responder situational awareness and decision support during response operations. The center also has an Urban Areas Security Initiative project sponsored by the DHS Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to conduct community resilience training on emergency response and preparedness for vulnerable populations.
Traviss Green, the appointed STEM Advisor to the County Executive, was asked to join the project to help students solve a problem set involving first responders. Traviss is familiar with public safety communications and broadband issues – including FirstNet – through his Prince George’s county affiliations and his participation in technology conferences and public safety events throughout the country.
“The students were already focused on conducting surveys, hosting community resilience workshops targeting vulnerable populations, and in the early stages of identifying solutions for those specific needs,” Traviss told FirstNet. “I decided to introduce them to a unique and exciting project called FirstNet and challenged them to expand their thinking to consider how their proposed solutions might work in a mobile broadband environment that builds upon the foundation of a nationwide network to offer services in support of public safety and first responder operations.”
Traviss, a Bowie State alumnus, met with Ray Lehr, the FirstNet single point of contact (SPOC) for Maryland and the Statewide Interoperability Director, to preview the public safety project. With the Maryland Interoperability Team’s help, they then connected with the local public safety community to involve them in the research and development efforts. "Who knows how to take advantage of today’s smartphones and social media better than bright college students?” said Ray. “Bringing them together with first responders who could list their needs and provide an understanding of their work environment has been inspiring for us all.”
Working with local Fire and EMS, the Bowie State team reviewed a number of scenarios and decided on Firestorm 2011 for their initial application work. Firestorm 2011 was one of the busiest 24-hour periods in Prince George’s County Fire/EMS (PGFD) history. PGFD responded to a record number of calls during a period of high winds and dry conditions; all 45 Fire/EMS Stations were engaged in emergency operations, and some neighboring states provided assistance.
Based on their analysis of Firestorm 2011, the students developed a situational awareness app – which uses Geographic Information System (GIS) services – in a hybrid cloud computing environment. Among their list of focus areas, students worked on:
• Tracking local resources for public safety;
• Providing real-time status on the incident itself to see the locations of assets deployed for public safety (the app allows you to pan around to every incident area and view which resources are being used and the status of those resources).
• Enabling incident command to request additional resources in the event they run out of local resources and track the status of those resources in coordination with supporting Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs).
• Conducting research on the quantitative measurement of the value of mobile applications to public safety with the development of an academic rubric that is aligned to APCO's Key Attributes document (FirstNet collaborates with APCO to promote effective apps for public safety and mobile response).
• Developing a private cloud environment based upon data management technologies for secure application development and hosting.
Traviss says the students then took sample data from the [Computer Aided Dispatch] CAD and worked with both Ray Lehr and Assistant Fire Chief Paul Gomez to identify problems that could have been addressed with data driven applications. “That’s what we demonstrated at the APCO Broadband event, and the students are focused on working within these requirements to benefit from first-hand exposure to an incident that happened in Prince George’s county and working alongside public safety to explore value-added solutions.”
The team has continuously reached out to the public safety community throughout the development process. As part of their next steps, they are working with the Prince George’s County 9-1-1 call center to set up a live CAD simulator and tie it to the app to assure all interfaces are secure and interoperable. After that they will seek additional feedback from first responders on how it works in day-to-day operations.
“First responders have come out, spent time with the students to talk about their challenges, and openly considered our ideas,” said Traviss. “Situational awareness has really been the key focus, and what we found is that, although there are some key gaps, the ability to leverage open standards and integrate different data feeds across multiple organizations can really help public safety and first responders improve on their mission while taking full advantage of information and services that are already in place today.”
This summer, BSU will continue to bring students together to focus on public safety technology developments. “It’s amazing to see how interested the students are with FirstNet. They started doing their own research and learned about so many great supporting efforts such as the [National Institute of Standards and Technology] NIST Cybersecurity Framework,” Traviss said. “One of the students actually earned an internship with NIST as a result of being involved with this project. That’s the kind of experience we hope to provide – stimulating economic development and workforce preparedness opportunities not only at Bowie State but at universities across the nation.”