Initially, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) wanted to empower maritime responders with better surveillance technology. Adding more radars and cameras alone was expected to make the difference, but further evaluation of the input from operational sponsors told a different story—it extended the benchmark for what S&T was asked to provide. Today, the Integrated Maritime Domain Enterprise - Coastal Surveillance System (IMDE-CSS) has evolved well beyond the initial information-gathering requirement into an information-sharing capability.
Commensurate with a flood of ever-interconnecting technologies on the rise, S&T recognizes the importance of integration, on several technological and operational fronts, to the efficiency of the Homeland Security Enterprise (HSE). S&T IMDE Program Manager Shawn McDonald and his team sought technologies that empower officers with greater surveillance capability—more powerful sensors, cameras, computers and other communication devices—but realized at some point they needed to form a data-sharing network. This has been one of the S&T missions of late, as they work to bridge different systems together for the holistic awareness of the enterprise, not just for any one agency.
If different agencies working in the same area of responsibility had access to the same data, their ability to coordinate operations would significantly increase. Responding to distress calls, interdicting and processing criminal activity would be faster and consume fewer resources. Through a shared, richer databank, the optimal course of action is made more visible to operators across the different agencies. They can know who and what is needed to do the job in any given situation.
This is not a projection of some distant future—the IMDE concept has already fared well with U.S. Coast Guard and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Air and Marine Operations (AMO), Air and Marine Operations Center (AMOC) as an initial testbed. Several technical demonstrations have laid the groundwork for connecting system owners.
“Because both the USCG and CBP operate in the maritime domain, a clear opportunity exists for more efficient collaboration between the organizations. Where they have mostly relied on their own exclusive information systems, the next level of information sharing will allow them to synchronize resources for planning and response as well as securely share sensor data across their respective networks,” explained Shawn McDonald.
Efficiency is the goal behind “middleware”, a concept that has pervaded the technology world for many years as different entities have sought to link aspects of their operation under a single umbrella. System operators in the past logged into different platforms which would have used different data. This was a “legacy system,” to which a new, integrated system is preferable. The solution is to develop software that “glues” these systems together, allowing operators to access these different types of information without bouncing between different platforms.
“IMDE would potentially reduce the amount of man-hours and hardware necessary to connect AMOC with different sensors and database information throughout the nation,” said Hidee Lehnert, Program Manager at AMOC.
IMDE is a single example of middleware seeking to “glue” several items together, only in this case extending across the HSE, legacy system to legacy system. The difficulty with integrating systems is that the systems are unique in and of themselves, so there is often not a one-size-fits all way to combine them. Solutions like IMDE are usually customized case-by-case. But this is seen as more of an opportunity than an obstacle.
“The prospect of unifying data systems between response agencies involves other federal, state, local, tribal, international, public and private partners that share in the coastal security interest. USCG and AMO are just the beginning,” said McDonald.
Data sharing interfaces are a key point of focus, if these systems are to work. Operators from different agencies, at all levels, need a solution that offers repeatable patterns for integrating new sources of information.
“AMOC relies on point-to-point and multi-point Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) Virtual Routing and Forwarding (VRF) connections for the various sensors it utilizes to date,” said Lehnert, “We plan to utilize IMDE to connect the established system of record to multiple hubs and allow the ingestion of additional sensors for greater domain and situational awareness.”
There is much legwork to be done in transitioning this technology with USCG and AMO. The Coast Guard is still reviewing options to employ IMDE services to enhance their own systems and position themselves to improve information sharing with DHS components and port partners.
Technology like this is not limited to maritime surveillance, either—Maryland State police are yet another group involved in pilot studies of this product, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive. IMDE can provide benefits to both air and land domains as well. Unifying technologies is a tremendous starting point on the way to a complete unity of effort between DHS S&T and its partners in the greater HSE.