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Technology Collaboration Improves Security for Boston's July 4th Celebration
When the Boston Pops Orchestra performed its Fourth of July concert, one of the five largest celebrations in the nation, an estimated 700,000 people were awed by the music and spectacular fireworks display. A group of public safety officials, however, weren’t watching the fireworks—they were a few blocks away in a Unified Command Center (UCC) monitoring the safety of the crowd. The officials used advanced security technology developed by a team that included engineers from MITRE and the Air Force’s Electronic Systems Center (ESC) at Hanscom Air Force Base.
Run by the Massachusetts State Police (MSP), the UCC serves as the regional communications hub that also includes the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, City of Boston, City of Cambridge, U.S. Coast Guard, FBI, and other local and state partners. The UCC, which seats about 60 people in its large command room, has been used by the MSP for the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular security since July 2001. Prior to this, officials used command vehicles parked in the streets.
Needed: An Access Control System
"During the last few years, too many visiting officials were causing distractions," says Lt. Charles Hanko of the MSP's Fusion Center, Maynard, Mass. "It's an operational facility, and distractions can interfere with the UCC's work. Officers are dispatching calls and taking in information from all the different sources. On the intelligence side, we have the Boston Regional Intelligence Center, the Mass State Police Fusion Center, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security. We also have our first responders such as medical and local police who respond to calls for medical service or to a reported crime.
"They're all watching huge monitors and computer screens that show traffic flow, weather, and video feeds from cameras placed around the Esplanade. Everybody is working closely together, so concentration is important."
MITRE has developed a strong relationship with the MSP over the last several years and proposed using integrated access control technology from multiple sources, including commercial products and systems developed for the Electronic Systems Center. From that discussion emerged a unique coalition of public, not-for-profit, and commercial organizations that provided an electronic access control system. Besides MITRE and the ESC, members of the team included Middlesex Community College and VideoIQ, all of Bedford, Mass. Other organizations included Boston 4 Productions, a nonprofit group that manages the event; Fenwick Technologies, Charleston, W. Va.; and RFID Global Solution, Eldersburg, Md.
The technology included radio frequency identification (RFID) tags attached to credentials that UCC staff members wore around their necks. As staff members walked through the entry way, overhead RFID readers compared the information in the tags against a database of names. If the information in the tags matched the database information, staff members were authorized to enter the command center. Otherwise, they were directed to an official who manually checked their credentials.
A Project for Systems Engineering
Duane Taylor, a lead network systems engineer at MITRE who is also on the board of directors for the Middlesex Community College Foundation, Inc., coordinated MITRE's role as integrator. "We used our experience in systems engineering to help bring the various technologies together," says Taylor. "It's also a way for MITRE to continue sharing its expertise with law enforcement and public safety activities."
RFID Global Solution, which originally outfitted the college's RFID lab, provided the RFID system software, tag readers, and procured the RFID tags for the UCC. Students and faculty at Middlesex Community College (MCC) worked with RFID Global Solution to design and assemble the RFID electronic credentials system.
A central part of the project was derived from MITRE's integration work for the ESC—an Automated Intrusion Tracking (AIT) system that is based on software developed by Fenwick Technologies. "We adapted Fenwick's AIT software and services for use with the Fourth of July access control system," says Carmen Corsetti, MITRE's manager for the AIT project. "The software takes data from any sensor—RFID tag, video, alarm, or radar—and converts it to a single format. Web technology allows information and alerts from the RFID and video systems to be published to authorized stations in the UCC or to secure, remote locations."
"The combination of technologies that came together during this effort was amazing," said William Soknich, the ESC program manager for AIT. "Even more amazing was the speed at which we were able to have the systems working together. This is one way the government helps demonstrate and transfer technology for the benefit of everyone."
Integration Via Remote Development
Initial planning stages for the July 4th event took place in the MITRE lab. Led by Kevin Miller, the MITRE team worked with Richard MacDonald, Boston 4 Productions co-producer, and Lt. Hanko to coordinate the design and installation of the access control system. "We really appreciated MITRE's collaborative ability to keep communications going and facilitate the whole process," says MacDonald.
Work on integrating the AIT system into the access control system then moved to Middlesex Community College. MITRE engineer Laura Bonanno worked closely with each coalition partner to ensure a seamless system. "At one point, we had to integrate the major components in a very short time frame, but each partner was geographically located in different places—Massachusetts, West Virginia, and Maryland," she says. "To get around this, we took advantage of Web-based technologies, including Web conferencing, webcams, chat, voice-over IP telephone, and teleconferencing. That reduced travel time and cut overall expenses."
On July 2, the system was disassembled and moved to Boston and connected to the UCC's network. To help make sure the system ran without a hitch were ESC team members Soknich and Leigh Musicof, plus MITRE team members Corsetti, Taylor, Bonanno, Miller, Jake Kennedy, and summer intern Katie Banner.
Overall, Lt. Hanko and Rich MacDonald bore responsibility for accepting the Access Control System for use in the UCC. They worked together with MITRE to vet the system each step of the way before it was brought into the UCC. "We had to be comfortable bringing it in because we put our credibility on the line," says Hanko. "Everything worked extremely well. Security and traffic flow were light years ahead of last year. MITRE did a first rate job in collaborating with everyone."
—by David A. Van Cleave
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