ATF wants more functionality from mobile devices

Bureau is wrapping up a pilot to test technology to receive surveillance video on PDAs

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is wrapping up a three-month pilot program to test mobile technology to give bureau officials more advanced capabilities on their personal digital assistants (PDAs), such as letting officials securely monitor surveillance video for investigations, the bureau’s chief information officer said today.

Richard Holgate, the bureau's CIO, detailed the pilot that involved deploying 150 devices to ATF field divisions around the country to test the ability to manage video on devices such as the HTC Touch Pro. Another pilot using iPhones that’s focused on business intelligence is planned.

The pilots are testing capabilities on and for an unclassified network.

“Over the long term … what we want to do is try and have a more rational and cost effective set of mobile capabilities,” Holgate told reporters after his presentation today at the FOSE 2010 trade show in Washington. “Right now we’ve got a lot of laptops out there, a lot of cellular broadband cards, a lot of BlackBerrys and, in some cases, the person has all three of those, so that’s a pretty costly model for that one individual and it comes at the expense at someone else potentially not having that type of capability.”

The pilot demonstrated several usability functions that need to be dealt with in the next phase of testing, Holgate said. Software for the first pilot cost a few hundred thousand dollars, he said, but a cost comparison the bureau did showed that over time costs for the pilot technology would be about the same as what ATF spends on BlackBerrys.

Holgate said other agencies weren’t formally involved in the pilot, but ATF officials have talked with the bureau's parent agency, the Justice Department, about the test. ATF is also comparing notes with the FBI (another Justice bureau) about such capabilities, Holgate said.

ATF’s requirement for video that can be streamed from fixed cameras to officials' mobile devices is largely driven by its need to monitor surveillance video for criminal investigations, Holgate said. The pilot comes as ATF is moving to IP-based video surveillance and is part of a larger effort by the bureau to put in place the ability to have up to 300 surveillance cameras streaming video at high quality that can be stored it in an evidence quality system, he added.

“It’s a much more flexible environment where you can monitor these cameras essentially from anywhere and you can have a pretty good visibility into what’s going on in these locations,” he said.

FOSE is presented by 1105 Media Inc., the parent company of Federal Computer Week, Government Computer News and Washington Technology.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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