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Microsoft and ESRI’s Fusion Core Solution

Written by Stephenie Slahor

While it sounds as though it is a component on the Space Shuttle or in a nuclear reactor, the “Fusion Core Solution” relates directly to public safety and homeland security. ESRI and Microsoft Corp. cooperated on its development, creating the innovative solution architecture. The predecessor to the architecture was FusionX, also a joint project of ESRI and Microsoft.

Fusion Core Solution provides law enforcement, emergency services and homeland security professionals with the ability to assess evolving physical and virtual security threats so that preparation, assessment and response can be decided, managed and executed in a timely and appropriate manner.

The events of 9/11 taught that protection of the homeland is paramount, but it is important to remember that the “homeland” is really a geographic area. Whether urban, suburban or rural, the “homeland” contains residences, businesses, institutions and places for travel, worship, study, farming, transportation and play. In essence, homeland security often involves protecting that geographic area in a coordinated exercise in physical locations.

Some locations are vulnerable to natural disasters like earthquakes, floods or foul weather. Other locations are buildings that could be targets of terrorism or crime by their very nature, and exactness in location is important in those sites, along with all the details that tell about the numbers of people in those locations, the stairways, the doors, the windows, the heating/air conditioning ducts, etc.

Other parts of the geography of the homeland are routes for vehicular traffic, but in emergencies they are also evacuation and emergency transportation conduits, so such factors as road capacity, road weight restrictions and potential speed of travel or delivery along that road become vital considerations in an emergency. A location’s open areas may presently be sites of farms, development or recreation, but in an emergency those open areas may become sites for staging, storage, triage, assembly or aircraft/helicopter landing and take-off.

Considering the “homeland” as a “location,” it becomes obvious that geographic information is actually a central component of homeland security. The tools and technologies relating to geographic information help organize and analyze the information law enforcement and emergency response need to carry out homeland security missions. Such things as maps, architectural renderings, blueprints, GPS, visualization tools, remote sensing technologies, demographic information, satellite imagery, grid computing and geographic information systems (GIS) are key. They help first responders and emergency management decide such things as the quickest routes to a scene; the best routes for evacuation; the locations of police; fire, health and emergency services and resources; the best places for triage and shelter; areas vulnerable to flooding, poor weather or further damage; areas suited for aircraft or helicopters; and sites where roadblocks will be most effective.

The answers to such geography-related questions and the decisions made from those answers help create accurate, quick and complete response to an emergency, be it human or natural in cause. GIS technology allows geo-spatial and collaborative technologies so law enforcement and emergency personnel can analyze data that previously was disparate. Setting such data in a mapping context allows complete analysis and easy sharing in near real-time.

In essence, GIS is actually layers of information. The base is usually the geography and topography of the location in question; then, atop that layer, different geographic or demographic information can be superimposed. For example, the locations of crimes and geopolitical districts or neighborhoods can be layered to show crime hotspots, geographic relationships between crimes and suspects, sharing of intelligence with other agencies, patterns during a period, changing demographics, and so on.

Extending that same concept to homeland security, the technique can be turned to such things as surveillance and intelligence gathering; detection and analysis of patterns of threat and possible attack; and during an actual response, the creation of an operating picture to allow better coordination of assets and resources. It can also lead to enhanced response; better understanding of the impacts of an event; estimates of existing damage and further damage; locations of buildings or areas for quarantine, detention, triage, etc.; identification of buffer zones; and enhanced facilitation of recovery operations.

Microsoft Corp. and ESRI recognized the potential of this technology when they partnered to create FusionX, an architecture that made such situational analysis affordable and easy to use. The system used geo-coding and the mapping of data. Whether layperson or expert, the technology in FusionX facilitated intake, analysis, visualization and dissemination of information from the realms of geo-processing and geo-analytics.

Building on that, and creating the new Fusion Core Solution, the same capabilities exist, but in an enhanced way, to give a quick-to-configure solution of data management and visualization capabilities. This solution makes available pre-loaded and customizable forms for intelligence. It includes the tools to search across multiple data sources. The architecture is extendable for complete geo-spatial analysis capabilities and there are integrated capabilities for analysis and collaboration.

Fusion Core Solution is considered to be easily configured. It also has secured connections to external data sources, including such tools as supported connectivity to a Department of Homeland Security Information Sharing Environment Shared Space, e-Guardian and the Automated Critical Asset Management System.

The new version integrates with existing systems “out of the box,” which is particularly important in these times of economic considerations. “Agencies need the ability to collect, manage and disseminate vital intelligence from multiple sources to counter future threats and criminal activities,” said Joe Rozek, the Executive Director of Homeland Security and Counter-terrorism for Microsoft’s US Public Sector segment. “This technical architecture helps organizations at all levels collaborate so the right people have the right information at the right place and time.”

Fusion Core Solution integrates GIS for better collaboration and knowledge sharing for improved threat identification and vulnerability assessments. The customizable forms allow the processing and assigning of different intelligence and information service requests associated with threat assessment. There are tools to search across multiple data sources. These tools include file shares, Web sites and databases. Geo-databases capture, maintain and disseminate spatial data using ESRI’s ArcGIS Server Advanced Enterprise. The search and pre-configured geo-spatial analysis capabilities are part of the solution architecture, using integrated analytics to extend to either new or existing applications.

Collaboration is enabled to integrate such resources as Web sites, wikis and blogs, and there are security measures to integrate with existing or new authentication and auditing systems. The system uses Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, and overall there is a set of tools for operations management, reporting capabilities, analysis and monitoring activities. Thus, users of SharePoint and ArcGIS and new users can be accommodated. Current users of SharePoint and ArcGIS Server will be able to download the Fusion Core Solution Custom Code and build a solution with either internal staff or with the help of a system integrator.

Homeland security often involves collaboration at the regional level and the Fusion Core Solution helps agencies overcome the technological—and administrative—barriers that might impede efficient geographic data sharing. It is possible to have an enterprise-wide, GIS-enabled set of information that allows everyone to see the same data with the same accuracy and timeliness, thus improving communication and cooperation in an emergency and providing an up-to-date geo-database of physical assets and resources, community demographics, and capabilities to design the best emergency response for homeland security missions.

Stephenie Slahor, Ph.D., J.D., writes in the fields of law enforcement and security. She can be reached at drss12@msn.com.

Published in Public Safety IT, Sep/Oct 2009

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