Cell Phone Application Reports Local Criminal Activities, Aids Disaster Response
Eye with emergency symbol
One of the problems in catching terrorists is that they blend into the local populations so well that it's hard to identify them. That could soon change with LocalEyes, a concept that enlists the eyes of local citizens as sensors and their cell phones as data capture devices. Emergency communications during natural disasters such as floods and hurricanes is another likely use of the LocalEyes technology.
Harry Sleeper, a department head in MITRE's Command and Control Center (C2C), created the LocalEyes concept. His idea was to develop a language-independent service that didn't rely on where in the world a user was reporting an event—it just had to be easy for anyone, anywhere to use the application. "The cell phone is used as a simple, everyday input device," says Sleeper. "Symbols, icons, or pictures representing the current situation are sent with just a click of a button."
Rich Byrne, a C2C vice president, formalized the idea in an internal paper about using LocalEyes to counter asymmetric warfare. "Asymmetric warfare involves changes in tactics of a seemingly weak enemy that can offset the strengths of a superior opponent," says Byrne. "Rather than fight together as a well-defined group that can be easily targeted, the terrorists disperse into the population."
"Our traditional C2 systems are self-contained and use sophisticated and expensive systems to find the enemy," he notes. "This works well when a large tank is associated with a foe, but it doesn't do well when looking for an individual dressed and hidden amidst a larger population of similar citizens."
LocalEyes is an easy-to-use, low-cost cell phone application. It allows citizens in communities throughout the world to report criminal and terrorist activities without revealing their identities. Citizens can also use it to send data reports to authorities on public safety issues such as missing manhole covers, new pot holes, gas leaks, breaks in dams, and downed power lines.
LocalEyes is a machine-to-machine data-driven system, so it doesn't need language translation. A citizen need only push a few buttons to send data about the "what," "where," and "when" of a sighting to a collection database. For example, if the sighting is a cache of AK-47 rifles, the citizen turns on LocalEyes and selects an image that's an exact match or is similar to an AK-47, and types in the location. Photos and text can be added to the report as attachments. The citizen now pushes a button to send the LocalEyes report, along with a time stamp, to the collection database.
Three Principles Leverage the Local Population
Byrne uses three principles to leverage the "local eyes" of a population. (Although he originally focused on Iraq, these principles apply to any country with a large cell phone user base.)
1. Use the local cell phone infrastructure to capture the knowledge of many. Iraq has more than seven million cell phone subscribers, so the country has a good infrastructure.
2. Use data, not voice. Data doesn't need an army of linguists to perform translations so large amounts of data can be passed from system to system without human intervention. Such machine data would be easy to integrate into our traditional C2 systems.
3. Enable local groups to adapt the system rapidly. Terrorists rapidly change their tactics, and our systems must be agile enough to evolve just as fast. Locals must be able to change applications on their own because they are closest to the problem.
Brandon Wolfe, the lead developer at MITRE for LocalEyes, says it was designed to be independent of the infrastructure it's running on. "In Iraq, for example, we can quickly overlay LocalEyes on the existing infrastructure so that people can send reports on suspicious activities," he says. "The application can be easily transitioned to the Iraqi security forces; we don't have to pull the infrastructure around with us."
Adaptable to Any Culture
LocalEyes can be set up by just about anyone in any culture. The local administrator just creates a checklist of things he or she wants LocalEyes to do. For example, to allow people to attach photos, a check mark is placed next to that option on the configuration list. Images and text that fit with the local culture are selected by the administrator. When the location-based version of LocalEyes is completed, it can be automatically pushed out to the cell phone users.
New applications can be quickly built within minutes or hours. "If a disaster occurs, for example, local authorities may want to establish which homes have been searched and where victims are trapped," says Wolfe. "They use the online application builder to customize information about the disaster. When a cell phone user starts LocalEyes, it will update itself with the most recent selections and allow the user to submit relevant event reports."
Gene O'Sullivan, a principal multi-discipline systems engineer, and Bill Knickerbocker, the project leader for USSOUTHCOM's Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Support, believe that LocalEyes could be used in countries like Colombia for drug enforcement and public safety.
"A successful trial in Bogota might encourage the government to expand its cell phone infrastructure into the countryside," says O'Sullivan. "Then, people in remote regions could use LocalEyes to summon help if they see suspicious activities. LocalEyes could be a tool for helping people clean up their environment of criminal activity."
"LocalEyes has the potential for being a dramatic paradigm shift in how we operate traditional command and control," says Byrne. "It will affect how we interoperate with coalitions, allies, the public, state and federal agencies. It could be the centerpiece of a new type of interoperability."
Testing LocalEyes in the Strong Angel III Demonstration
LocalEyes was tested in Strong Angel III, a disaster response demonstration recently held in San Diego. Strong Angel III showed how civil and military communications can work together in a real-world disaster. Public and private organizations from around the world sent some 400 participants and 400 observers to the event. The simulation involved a wide-area virus outbreak combined with a cyber attack on civil and military communications systems.
"LocalEyes helped to bridge the infrastructure gap between civilian and incident command," says MITRE's Kevin Cabana, the project leader for the Strong Angel III LocalEyes initiative. "It was easily integrated into existing emergency information management procedures and C2 applications."
The demonstration started with no power and the cell towers down, so the various groups formed relationships the old fashioned way—talking face to face. "We had three people on our team," says Jennifer Mathieu, the onsite leader for this initiative. "We were able to have one person networking to create the necessary relationships, one person in the field, and another working with the data. We were often the only group that could communicate data from the field to the command and control center in real time."
Onsite team member Harcharanjit Singh notes that LocalEyes worked well because it's an easy technology for first responders to use. "The technology is simple and people are used to cell phones. In fact, after two minutes of instruction, a Red Cross participant said he could teach others to use it."
LocalEyes was used to capture events through mobile phone images and text messages, and the data was sent directly to the C2 center to be analyzed. The data was used in the C2 center by Google Earth, Intergraph, Microsoft DirectBand, General Atomics, and the Alabama Incident Management System (AIMS).
A LocalEyes report is mostly structured data, so it doesn't require the same human filtering, translation, and interpretation as a report taken over a 911- or two-way radio system. Civilians and field personnel equipped with cell phones have the ability to immediately capture and send incident information to the C2 center.
Seth Landsman, the LocalEyes developer on the Strong Angel III initiative, says: "A LocalEyes report is primarily a string of encrypted text, which contains much less data than a voice phone call. It also can be compressed and does not have the same latency constraints. The result is that a LocalEyes report can be transmitted even when phone networks have diminished capacity."
—by David A. Van Cleave