New Department of Homeland Security Program Tests Emergency Response System

In the first installment of our EarthData series (The American Surveyor, Jan/Feb 2004), I mentioned that EarthData was also working on the new Airborne Rapid Imaging for Emergency Support (ARIES) program. This program, which is being managed by the Office for Domestic Preparedness of the Department of Homeland Security, is comprised of an aircraft digital sensor array (LIDAR, optical, thermal), a direct downlink capability, and a mobile processing center. These are coordinated to provide the fastest possible means of supporting emergency response.

On August 24th I traveled to the FEMA National Emergency Training Center (NETC) in Emmitsburg, Maryland for a dress rehearsal demo of the ARIES system. Program manager Terry Busch explained that EarthData currently supports rapid response scenarios for a variety of natural disasters. As Hurricane Charley was bearing down on Florida, EarthData had pre-deployed multiple aircraft, causing a change in the planned demo events at the NETC. Due to these real-world events, a simulation using data collected two days prior to the event was used to support EarthData’s field test prior to their upcoming live operation test.

Busch said the goal of ARIES is to improve upon the response time for imaging in an emergency. Based on the lessons learned at the World Trade Center, ARIES is designed to fly planes overhead within 6 hours of an event and to broadcast geospatial images within another 3. At FEMA’s NETC the ARIES crew took 16 minutes to set up the tent, and everything else was ready to go within one hour. ARIES receives data directly from the plane at 1.2 gigabits per second. The portable shelter processes the imagery into geospatial formats. Approaching near real-time, as soon as the data is processed it is broadcast internally for first-responders, via wireless network, and across the internet. ARIES seeks to disseminate data via any means from the portable processing center.

Within the command shelter live feeds provide weather, airspace traffic, and communications in real time. Simultaneously, the ground shelter tracks the ARIES aircraft throughout its operations. Mission planning can be performed on the ground and uploaded to the plane. Post-collection, the aircraft tracking is used to lock onto the plane in order to downlink imagery and metadata for image processing.

Once the data is received, the shelter has the capacity to process multiple forms of digital imagery. When processed, the data is automatically posed on a web server for broad distribution. This ‘right sided’ capability allows image processing to take place in a distributed manner so no time is lost waiting for computer time. Across from the image processing computers is a full array of visualization tools that provide live feeds, monitor ground responders, and provide a suite of analytical and GIS capabilities.

ARIES primarily functions as a method to acquire, process and disseminate data using leading edge technologies. A full suite of hardcopy, softcopy, interoperability capabilities allows ARIES to support any user request from producing a simple letter-sized map to directly feeding large national geospatial databases. An assembly of video screens monitors all aspects of the image processing, communications, and feedback within the shelter. Each system can be summoned with a single mouse click providing emergency managers with the most current common operating picture available customized to their needs. ARIES fundamental purpose is to be prepared for any user from a firefighter needing a paper map to a large-scale emergency operations center.

A full demo will be held at the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey in early fall. EarthData’s System Overview white paper, which explains the system in greater detail, can be found HERE.

Program Manager Terry Busch explains the UPS and backup systems in the rear of the tent