Super Bowl security uses E-Sponder

Jacksonville Sheriff's Office

Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, Fla., may wind up being known as the Security Bowl.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is coordinating the security activities of 53 local, state and federal agencies, including the FBI, Coast Guard and U.S. Navy, for the Feb. 6 event through a Web-based collaboration system — in place since Jan. 5 — that was also used during a presidential debate and World Series games in St. Louis last year.

St. Louis-based Convergence Communications developed the E-Sponder system using Microsoft Office Professional Enteprise Edition and Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server collaboration software, which agencies can use to immediately report incidents, share documents, view video surveillance, limit Internet capability and communicate using e-mail and instant messaging in dozens of venues and as far away as 20 miles.

Homeland Security Department officials in Washington, D.C., will be able to view what's going on in Jacksonville through the department's Homeland Security Operations Center. The system greatly enhances the situational awareness of law enforcement agencies, officials said.

"The biggest part of the functionality that's been valuable for us is having one place for everybody to go for information," said Beth Horn, information technology officer at the sheriff's office, which has about 2,000 officers.

In prior years, coordinating security for events in the city might have involved only four or five agencies, with personnel using interoperable radios to communicate, she added. "Whatever shreds of information that [the communications center personnel] could get they would pass out to command staff, but it was very ad hoc," Horn said. "It wasn't formalized like this is."

The E-Sponder system has 500 registered users, mostly from the sheriff's office. It requires minimal training and people become comfortable with the system quickly, officials said.

During the presidential debate and World Series, E-Sponder used the Microsoft Office InfoPath application, which allowed users to build forms using Extensible Markup Language, said Robert Wolf, Convergence's president.

Law enforcement officers and others were able to create incident action plans online and submit them via the Internet rather than paper. A centralized database of such information rolled up into one master action plan for authorized users helps officials know who is doing what when. Otherwise, they would have to deal with hundreds of paper reports.

An incident action plan may contain information about the route and time of a motorcade that could result in road closures, a change in traffic patterns, street light changes and a need for barriers. The plan can be overlaid with full street level and aerial satellite imagery to track planned and unplanned events.

"If there's a traffic accident blocking the road, you can then pull up what other events are going to be taking place around that, [whether] there's going to be a motorcade or the team bus is on the way [and] again it's just building on the situational awareness," Wolf said.

Real-time communication also enables agencies to coordinate and resolve incidents much faster.

For example, last October, when President Bush's motorcade was ready to go to the St. Louis debate site for a microphone check, a house fire was reported along motorcade's route. Without the system, the motorcade would likely have been diverted because of the time involved in finding out about and resolving the incident, Wolf said. But because the officials used the new system to quickly get details about the situation, the motorcade was not diverted.

"What happened with our system is, when the 911 call came in, it immediately popped up on the board, a house fire, giving the address," Wolf said. "And then we were also immediately able to show that that was in the path of the motorcade and that we're in trouble. But about two minutes later, we started getting the on-scene dispatches coming through the system and it turned out to be just an air conditioner fire in the attic and was quickly brought under control and they were quickly able to get the fire truck out of the way. It took about eight minutes from start to finish."

E-Sponder will cover 37 sites of Super Bowl-related events, including concerts, gatherings such as the Playboy and Maxim parties, and the game itself.

Earlier this week in Jacksonville, officials used E-Sponder to find a young boy who was lost at one of the venues and reunite him with his parents, Wolf said. Another recent incident that was tracked as it unfolded involved a trespasser on the practice field of the Philadelphia Eagles, one of the teams playing in the Super Bowl.

"The dispatchers generally are the ones to start a ticket," Wolf said. "So when the call came in or when the officer reported, 'I'm tracking someone,' that immediately comes up as a ticket and comes in as an unplanned incident that there's an issue. Then in real time, we track that the officer has him, has arrested him, is transporting them. If it's a true arrest, we'll store the data on the suspect in case he appeared in another location."

The system will also track an officer's hours and tie them to payroll, Wolf said. Officers sign in and out using timesheets, and the data is keyed into the system. The interface with the sheriff's office payroll system will look up each officer's information, determine their rate of pay and calculate the costs in real time.

Tom Richey, Microsoft's homeland security director, said E-Sponder would help meet the federal government's National Response Plan, which was unveiled earlier this year. The plan standardizes the federal response coordinated with state, local and tribal jurisdictions to any human-caused incident or natural disaster.

E-Sponder is "a model because what it does is takes a bunch of different stakeholders from different levels of government and quickly pulls them into a unified command structure, whether it's a Super Bowl, another sporting event, or a tornado or an earthquake or a terrorist event," he said.

"The generic behavior of these stakeholders is going to be the same," Richey added. "They need to share information quickly, they need to get structured data around legacy systems the plane of the event, and rapidly expose that information to multiple users in a reliable, secure and affordable way."

Horn said Jacksonville officials would continue to use the system for major events, such as hurricanes, and are talking about using it for regular events, such as football games. Wolf said there are plans to use the system for the NCAA basketball tournament in March.

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