August 15, 2014

Introducing The University of Washington’s Center for Collaborative Systems for Security, Safety and Regional Resilience (CoSSaR)

A new research center at the University of Washington is working with the Puget Sound community and government partners to understand and support the information sharing requirements to deliver round-the-clock security and safety services.

The University of Washington, through the College of Engineering and the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering, established an organization to lead innovation in the design, development and use of collaborative systems that support regional operations for security, safety and resilience. This center is a unique resource for the homeland security enterprise, offering a multi-disciplinary facility and environment where professionals from a wide range of entities (Federal, State, County, City, Tribal, International, Public and Private) team with university experts to align strategies, processes and investments in systems for security, safety and resilience.

CoSSaR is hitting the ground running with a three-pronged approach to benefit the citizens of the Pacific Northwest and government partners: (1) understanding the current environment, (2) using that understanding to engage the community in future technical enhancements, and (3) facilitating sustainable collaborative mechanisms that enhance that engagement.

1) Understanding the environment: Operational Information Sharing Analysis
In 2013 three Federal agencies joined together, driven by a common recognition that resource allocations, policy decisions, and technical solutions intended to improve regional security and safety needed to be based on a better understanding of daily operational information sharing practices and challenges. The DHS Interagency Operations Center program (IOC), the National Maritime Intelligence-Integration Office (NMIO) and the Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment (PM-ISE) partnered with the University of Washington to initiate the ongoing Maritime Operational Information Sharing Analysis (MOISA) project.

The first year of MOISA was based on the simple assumption that before we can improve something, we need to understand how it currently works. Therefore, MOISA began as a collaborative effort with the Puget Sound safety and security community to answer the question: What is the nature of the community’s daily operational information sharing environment (ISE) and what is the role of that ISE in achieving their collective missions? The community’s answer, repeated many times in many ways, was simple and nearly unanimous: “When it comes down to it, the ISE is all about relationships.”

2) Improving technical solutions: Trust and Interoperability
To provide meaningful impact, technology “solutions” must be appropriate for and accepted within the community’s operational environment. Among other things, initiatives to improve information sharing efforts across a region need to support the existing, often informal, trust relationships that are the backbone of daily operations.

Federally-centric formal systems, delivered as a series of technology-centric solutions, have not thus far sufficiently supported the daily work and mission of the community, nor have they supported the strengthening of community trust and self-knowledge. Many of these systems have been brought in piecemeal with few plans for sustainability. They have made current work harder, not easier. They have not been owned by the community as a whole, not designed based on a thorough knowledge of how the regional community works, how they share information, and how they self-organize. They have introduced constraints and had unintended consequences, addressed one problem of a complex, highly interdependent system (usually a problem of the Federal component) at the expense of introducing new issues elsewhere in the system (usually at the local level).

The parts of these formal technology-based systems that are most critical to improving the work of the community are identity, entitlement and trust management – who are you, can I trust you, what can I appropriately share with you? Formal methods for Identify, Credential, and Access Management (ICAM) are a focus of national initiatives to improve the ISE, but thus far these formal methods are not having a major regional impact. The Puget Sound community shows little interest in or awareness of data standards or meta-tagging or national exchange models. Perhaps this is because they are working on a daily basis to maintain a far more nuanced system of identity, entitlement and trust management, based on knowledge of and experience with people, organizations and work practices.

To address this opportunity, a pending project seeks to link the tools and concepts of PM-ISE’s project interoperability to regional mission accomplishment by building on the MOISA analytical work and CoSSaR-facilitated state and regional expertise to improve information sharing and safeguarding. Moreover, throughout this project, the tools and concepts rooted in Project Interoperability will be further refined to better meet mission need – serving as a model for community-driven and mission-based interoperability that could be adopted by other geographic regions.

3) Engaging the community through collaborative mechanisms
CoSSaR is exploring with the community the development of collaborative mechanisms that can support these activities and enhance engagement with Federal partners. For example, the operational community has expressed frustration with the frequency and lack of coordination of Federal requests for information and the lack of return information that can help them in operational mission accomplishment. In response, CoSSaR is facilitating a community-driven coordinated survey capability with the goal of transforming federal requests for information from a series of distracting one-offs to a community repository of useful operational information. CoSSaR is also collecting information on regional sensor capabilities and facilitating a community analysis of the potential of sensor integration to provide enhanced operational value.

We look forward to expanding on these three areas in future PM-ISE blog posts.

CoSSaR works with the full spectrum of security and safety stakeholders in the Puget Sound region to achieve a more holistic, human-centered, mission-centric perspective on our investments to enhance the critical ISE. This may sound like a difficult and complex approach, but it is clear that if you cannot afford the time and resources to do it right the first time, you certainly don’t have the time and resources to do it over again… and again.

To learn more about CoSSaR and for partnership opportunities, contact:

ISE Blog Link: