Imagine being able to coordinate an inter-agency event through a common Web page, a page that all the players had access to, communicated through, and were able to check for a bird’s-eye situational overview at any time. That is precisely the thinking behind Convergence Communications’ E-SPONDER
software. It is also why E-SPONDER has been used to coordinate multi-agency security at events such as the Super Bowl in Jacksonville, FL in January 2005, and the Atlantic Coast Conference Football Championship Game in the same location in December 2005.
“Using E-SPONDER to coordinate and control multiple first responder agencies is like having the dining room table preset,” said Officer Kevin Guthrie of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. “If we suddenly decide to have a lot of guests over, we’re ready.”What is E-SPONDER?
E-SPONDER is an easy-to-configure Web browser-based platform that allows federal, state, local, and private sector agencies to share information and set policies before an event, handle command and control functions during it, and review what was done after the fact. Think of it as a secure Web page environment where everyone can interact with each other in real time: That’s E-SPONDER.
E-SPONDER was created by Convergence Communications in 2003, using Microsoft’s SharePoint Portal Server 2003 collaboration software as the program’s core. Using it, Web browser-equipped desktop and laptop PCs, and either wireless or wired Internet connections, E-SPONDER brings all the players together into a common Web environment. It’s akin to a multi-player online game, except that this time the action’s for real.Nuts and Bolts
The heart of the E-SPONDER system is the program’s Collaboration Portal. Loaded on one of the participating agency’s servers, and connected to everyone else through the Web, the Collaboration Portal is the place at which operational, schedule and personnel information is entered using an interface that looks like Windows Office Suite.
Once the Collaboration Portal is online, it can serve as the event’s virtual operations center. Before an event, the participating agencies use the portal to collaborate on and then post relevant documents, procedures and plans. Contacts can also be stored on the Collaboration Portal, as can customized forms that can be filled, filed and then recalled later on as needed. In addition, the portal can connect to real-time surveillance cameras, so that everyone can see what’s happening at the scene.
When the event is underway, this E-SPONDER portal becomes the common point of contact for all first responders. Where this really helps is when unexpected things occur, such as happened during the ACC Game in Jacksonville.
“The I-95 on the west side of town was where all the Florida State University traffic was coming into the area,” said Lieutenant Randy Russell of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. “If a crash occurred here, it would truly mess up the traffic flow. Well, an accident did happen while the Florida State University marching band was en route in their eight buses.
“Thanks to the connected communications provided by E-SPONDER, everyone involved learned about the crash soon after it happened. Not only did this allow us to deploy resources quickly to get the freeway cleared, but it ensured that all the ripple effects from such a disruption were dealt with quickly as well, including getting the band to the stadium on time.”Keeping Super Bowl XXXIX Safe
Preparing for Super Bowl XXXIX was a major headache for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. They were faced with the influx of over 100,000 spectators into their community, the need to provide security at about 6,000 separate related events, and the requirement to coordinate their efforts with 52 agencies, including the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, the Florida Highway Patrol, the FBI, FEMA and the U.S. Secret Service. All told, over 4,000 security personnel were tasked to keep Jacksonville safe before, during and after the big game.
E-SPONDER’s role in Super Bowl XXXIX was to provide critical information and enhanced situational awareness to both the command staff and the professionals in the field who were in charge of protecting the public during the event,” said Convergence Communications president Rob Wolf.
“Within seven days, E-SPONDER was up and running and 500 users were registered on the system. Users filled out a registration form, and, once approved, were automatically added to the back-end sequel database, without the need for IT assistance, which was a definite plus for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, who were tasked with larger, more complex issues.”
E-SPONDER was central to the success of this project. After the pre-event planning was done and duties assigned, E-SPONDER kept everyone briefed on unplanned incidents such as traffic snarls and fire/EMS emergency responses. As things happened, the people in charge could respond to them across the whole operation, moving each component as easily as moving pieces on a chess board. Moreover, by making these moves online, the various agencies’ radio frequencies were left open for other purposes.
Overall, E-SPONDER performed admirably during Super Bowl XXXIX and the ACC Championship, which is why Lt. Russell has such respect for this software. “The new collaboration solution helps make us more effective, informed, and able to carry out our mission more capably and more efficiently,” he concluded. “It changes the way that we’ve been operating and really improves the processes on which policing has relied up to now.”
The level of inter-agency cooperation and coordination supported by E-SPONDER is suited not just to sporting events, but indeed any situation where first responders have to cope with many, many elements. This includes emergencies as well as pre-planned events. In fact, E-SPONDER can be used to create coordinated mutual aid structures before disaster strikes, so that a common platform is in place and ready to go at the height of chaos.
James Careless is a freelance writer who specializes in first responder communications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.