Resilience

Hazard Detection: “Bring Your Own Protection”

by Kathryn Laskey

Current approaches for ensuring public safety rely on expensive and obtrusive equipment and procedures having limited availability and inadequate performance. Newly emerging wearable sensors have the potential to spark a fundamental change in this equation. Researchers at George Mason University are investigating a new concept called “Bring Your Own Protection” (BYOP).

klaskeyChemical and radiological hazards pose major safety challenges at venues such as airports, sporting arenas, concert halls, city parks, and college campuses. The increase in threats aimed at soft targets coupled with the relative accessibility of chemical and radiological materials creates the potential for serious destruction perpetrated by malevolent actors.

The BYOP concept leverages the combination of ubiquitous, specialized sensors and state-of-the-art atmospheric dispersion modeling to provide effective protection at lower cost than the current state of practice. A BYOP system can be unobtrusively and affordably deployed at communal occasions such as sporting events, concerts, rallies, and other public gatherings. BYOP promises to provide an agile, affordable, smart system for public safety and protection based on a virtual, quickly deployable wireless sensor network of mobile and/or wearable devices capable of detecting and localizing hazardous sources within an urban environment.

A BYOP system will feature a ubiquitous wireless sensor network that anyone, anywhere, at any time can join. Newly emerging wearable radiation and chemical detectors will alert users when the measured intensity exceeds a threshold. A network formed from such devices can continuously monitor for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosive materials. Sensor outputs can be fused to provide an updated picture of the situation and give timely warning of potential incidents, enabling rapid prevention and/or response.

BYOP will bring changes at the national, enterprise, individual, and policy levels. From a national perspective, as the number of threats aimed at soft targets such as public gatherings increases, BYOP can dramatically change the dynamics at the core of the vulnerability of soft targets. From an enterprise perspective, the public safety paradigm will change from expensive, centralized control devices to distributed, networked sensors coupled with advanced data fusion and decision-support systems. From an individual perspective, the system will bring transformational change in people’s perceptions and their personal responsibility in preparing for and preempting incidents of public disorder as they shift from information consumers to information providers and from passive targets to actively participating in homeland security. Finally, the BYOP concept requires policy initiatives to adapt to the new safety environment of citizens as active participants in ensuring the homeland’s safety.

Research on wearable sensors has now progressed to the point at which products are reaching market. However, architectures for information fusion, risk analysis, and decision support have received much less research attention. Further, a multitude of policy challenges ranging from interoperability standards to privacy protection to liability determination need to be addressed to bring the BYOP concept to fruition.

Kathryn Laskey is professor of Systems Engineering and Operations Research (SEOR) at George Mason University and associate director of the Center of Excellence in Command, Control, Communications Computing, Intelligence, and Cyber (C4I & Cyber) at George Mason University. Her primary research area is multi-source information fusion for situation awareness and decision support. She has developed technology and systems to support situation awareness and decision-making across a variety of domains, including military situation awareness and decision support, managing uncertainty in geospatial data, and delay mitigation in the National Airspace System. She is currently examining modeling of inference enterprises devoted to detecting insider threats. She serves on the board of directors of the International Society of Information Fusion, the Association for Uncertainty in Artificial Intelligence, and the Washington Metropolitan Area chapter of the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE). She has served on committees and boards of the National Academy of Sciences.