Collaboration and technology keep installation secure during major events > Air Force Materiel Command > Article Display

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR BASE, Ohio – It is often said that it takes a village to raise a child. The same can be said when it comes to keeping Wright-Patt safe during large-scale events, like the Air Force Marathon.

The 2022 race returned as a live event after a three-year hiatus and was a huge success, according to marathon officials. This is largely due to what happened behind the scenes and well before the starting gun was fired at the starting line.

Immediate support planning

“We start preparing for next year’s marathon the day after the current one ends,” said Jacob King, the installation’s fire chief. “Because the marathon is highly manpowered, our planning and preparation begins immediately.”

Preparation is a vital component of success, according to King, as he has more than 700 rescuers on his team during race weekend as they partner with firefighters in Fairborn, Beavercreek, Dayton and Huber Heights.

“We work with our mutual aid partners on a regular basis and help each other in and out of the gate,” she said. “We take their calendar, short response plans, and conduct walkthroughs to make sure we’re in sync for every event.”

With race weekend six months away, King and his team begin working with the Air Force Research Laboratory to coordinate flybys and the use of ground sensors to obtain data for the Common Operating Picture, a technology that allows early responders and decision makers view all response efforts.

“The use of technology has made our job of keeping people safe a lot easier,” King said. “The ability to see the entire event gives decision makers the information they need to make the right decision.”

A week later, an incident action plan is approved and released to first responders and cooperating units. King says this plan ensures that all members of the response force know exactly how they will respond to certain types of incidents and are on the correct communication channels. Locations are assigned and share the plan with mutual aid partners on and off base.

On race day, fire crews and first responders are on site in the very early hours of the morning. The incident command post is established at Fire Station 1 and is mirrored by the operations trailer, which is located closest to the scene of the action.

“Binding everyone together in response is the key to success,” said Mike Roberts, assistant fire department chief of operations. “The Incident Command Post has connections with various units such as medics, security forces, logistics and more. Each of these representatives will coordinate their respective support and response lane.”

The configuration within the operations trailer also allows the installation commander to receive a brief from the incident command post and discuss the actions to be taken. This allows the commander to make decisions with accurate and reliable data.

“We want to give the installation commander the best picture of situational awareness to make the best decision available,” King said. “This process makes rapid decision making faster, more accurate and more efficient.”

AFRL incorporates technology

Before the evolution of technology, it was standard procedure for first responders to keep information posted on whiteboards, covered with handwritten sticky notes and maps tacked up on nearly every wall. The AFRL has been integral in modernizing response efforts and enabling first responders with a state-of-the-art common operational framework.

The COP is a continuously updated overview of incidents, compiled from data shared across integrated communications, information management, intelligence and information sharing systems. Essentially, it’s an aircraft display with real-time data that further enhances the commander’s decision-making process.

“It provides situational awareness to the entire team, including the commander, senior leadership and incident command,” said Raymund Garcia, senior advisor in AFRL’s directorate of sensors. “Basically, it’s what appears in front of a user. We use real-time technology to show status updates so someone doesn’t have to pick up the phone or use the radio to get answers.”

This technology took the operational picture from the incident commander’s mind and showed it to everyone.

Among many actions, the race director can keep an eye on the temperature, firefighters can see where their assets are, security forces can post updated traffic alerts or road closures, and health officials can list the number of patients currently in each of the medical tents.

“The possibilities are endless when determining what you want to see at the COP,” Garcia said. “We can take information from the mind and display it on a computer and connect with our partners, like weather and law enforcement, to coordinate the response.”

This technology was introduced during the 2015 Air Force Marathon as a pilot program. The AFRL tested various sensors and displayed data on the COP, operating separately from event personnel and first responders.

Before the race was over, senior leaders and decision makers found themselves using the digital COP more than the whiteboard, sticky notes and maps. It was immediately listed as a capability for future marathons due to how it impressed installation leaders and worked for the response team.

“Nearly any information can be viewed on the COP, but it’s important to determine if it’s useful,” Garcia said. “Each direction might have different data displayed, but all incorporate a targeted response for a larger group. They can use a actionable view for their team’s response: show the right thing at the right time for the right answer.”

The eye in the sky

A huge component of why COP is able to show real-time aerial imagery is AFRL’s Blue Guardian program. It allows a civilian or military aircraft to fly over an area and collect data and images that can be viewed on the COP for the response team’s situational awareness.

The program was designed to demonstrate advanced sensing technology for intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance in operational environments. Since US citizens cannot be supervised, a legal review had to be conducted and the Proper Use Memorandum filed and approved.

“The law allows us to do this,” said Luke Borntrager, lead engineer of the Blue Guardian program within AFRL’s directorate of sensors. “After the first legal review it was determined that none of the information we were collecting contained personal data. They were simply given… nothing more.

“Once that was established, they allowed us to support a real-world event, like the Air Force Marathon, because we were carrying out multiple R&D mission objectives.”

AFRL began providing marathon aerial surveillance flights in 2019. It has been able to test and evaluate various equipment and sensor technology for research and development purposes, while assisting in the response effort by providing that insight mission essential from the clouds.

Two birds, one stone.

“The marathon is a very unique exercise that we are able to support right here in our backyard,” Borntrager said. “We are able to conduct a large amount of R&D testing while supporting a major Air Force event.”

The only caveat? AFRL has to change the technology it uses to provide coverage every year. Because it is being used for R&D purposes, officials are prohibited from using the previous year’s technology.

“We need to make sure we have the latest and greatest equipment out there so we can continue to support the marathon with surveillance air coverage,” Borntrager said. “Since supporting the marathon in 2019, AFRL has been able to fine-tune their imagery and support by seeing what works, what doesn’t, and what challenges have arisen and how to address them to become more effective.”

Base officials said Wright-Patt’s effort to produce a functioning COP that enhances the visibility of the installation’s command and control leadership demonstrates the strength to work together to achieve overall mission success.

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