What federal agencies can learn from the Super Bowl

Metlife Stadium_Superbowl 2014

Photo by Anthony Quintano/

On the ground in New Jersey and New York City, an ecosystem of law enforcement, federal agencies, industry partners, smart phones, tablets and more is built around one of the biggest events of the year: the Super Bowl. Behind the show of force on the ground is a public safety cloud linking all the people, data and action in order to maintain the highest level of security.

The undertaking involves an immense amount of shared information among numerous partners, from first responders reporting suspicious activity to movements of team buses. All of that information streams as a feed into a command center, where the information is prioritized by analysts and a full picture of Super Bowl situational awareness is displayed on a centralized screen -- or on the smart phones or tablets of those accessing the data from the ground.

"The idea is to collaborate among lots and lots of agencies and partners," said Anthony Beverina, president of public safety and commercial business at Haystax Technology, which is providing threat-detection technology and cloud services, along with Amazon Web Services. "For us, cloud computing is a fantastic lever because it gives us the ability to create these big, collaborative environments where all of this information can be fused. Everybody comes to the party with a certain amount of information and a certain need for information."

As federal agencies struggle to share information, particularly related to potential threats, the public safety cloud serves as a case study in connecting numerous disparate groups and people to identify and mitigate security risks.

"When I look at what we're doing for the Super Bowl, we're doing so many things that the federal agencies are trying to do as well, but they tend to do it with a set of requirements and a lot of contractor time," said Haystax CTO Bryan Ware. "It's slower, it's more expensive, it doesn't leverage commercial technology as much, and often times when we see what some of the fed agencies have its not even as technically sophisticated or user-focused as the things we're able to do."

The problem is multi-fold: Federal agencies' processes don't allow for much agility and budgets preclude buying lots of new technology.

"The greatest lessons learned were when the state and local entities tried to do their own thing and just couldn't afford it," Ware said. "So they started buying commercialized products, and I think in this new budget environment that federal agencies find themselves in, they have that same issue -- they don't have the time or dollars to build something that's custom for them. They have to buy what industry has, and then tailor that to their mission."

And then there is the fundamental reluctance to reveal too much, particularly in the wake of high-profile government leaks.

"At a federal level, agencies feel like when they share too much information they put that information at risk ... so then there's a tendency to not share as much and keep it to a small number of users," Ware said. "But when you do that, you have situations like [the Boston Marathon bombing] where maybe the FBI knew something about the Tsarnaev brothers beforehand. There's an inherent tension between the need to share information so that you have the best support for decision making, and the need to protect information from inappropriate use or disclosure."

But is moving to the cloud the answer to the government's problems in preventing the next attack on U.S. soil? Not entirely, but it could help, Beverina and Ware noted.

"The mission requires information-sharing, and there are tools available to protect information. It's just sometimes we don't use the tools because of lack of expertise, or we're moving too fast, or we're using older technology that doesn't have some of those capabilities built in," Ware said. "As we move to the cloud, it gives us an opportunity to revisit the security model to ensure data is protected, to make sure we understand who our users are and to be able to have the confidence that information is not going to be used or leaked inappropriately. The cloud doesn't give you that magical fix, but it gives you the opportunity to revisit some things that might be hard to change in your legacy infrastructure."

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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