NRL-Stennis Researchers Play a Major Role in Counterterrorism Exercise

7/19/2005 - 35-05r
Contact: Public Affairs Office, (202) 767-2541

What started out to be an average Monday turned into anything but average for researchers from the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), Stennis Space Center (SSC) who took part in the largest international counterterrorism exercise of its kind in history, called Top Officials (TO3). In simulations, bombs detonated, structures collapsed, sirens screamed, and troops were activated. Hospital staffs scurried to the aid of hundreds of "victims" as they streamed into hospitals with unidentifiable symptoms.

Kevin Shaw, John Sample, Frank McCreedy and Les Baham, all from NRL's Marine Geosciences Division, spent a week this past spring in the TO3 command cell generating worldwide maps and imagery using the Geospatial Information Database (GIDB), with John Breckenridge supporting from NRL SSC.

Simulated attacks of this nature took place all over New Jersey and Connecticut in the third in a series of counterterrorism preparedness exercises mandated by Congress to test the ability to prepare for and respond to an actual attack. The United States, United Kingdom and Canada cooperated in TO3, designed to strengthen the nation's capacity to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks involving weapons of mass destruction. The scenario is plausible, but purely fictional.

According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff, over 10,000 participants from 27 federal agencies, and more than 200 government officials and private sector organizations took part in this large counterterrorism exercise. And researchers from the NRL SSC were right in the middle of the action.

"We have the unique ability of pulling together information from 800 simultaneously connected geospatial sources that allow us to provide the richest geospatial context for situational awareness currently possible," said NRL SSC's Kevin Shaw. [Geospatial context is the act of providing the user with as much environmental information of the surrounding area as possible (streets, buildings, waterways, airports) - as if the user were actually present at that location.] Maps and charts were generated around the clock and sent to various exercise sites as required.

NRL's GIDB Portal System is a standards-based portal for geospatial information discovery, access and mapping. The system is a powerful tool for gathering near- and real-time environmental data from various sources obtained via the Internet. The information is displayed in a Geographic Information System-like fashion for data overlay and comparison.

The GIDB served as the provider of geospatial information to the Master Control Cell as well as all other participants. The system connected over 750 geospatial sources to generate hardcopy plots and provide digital versions of mapping products.

Based on NRL's performance in the previous TO2 exercise, DHS officials requested that NRL provide the GIDB technology again this year. Instant mapping products from GIDB allowed the actual mayors, governors and first responders to quickly orient themselves with the extent of simulated disasters and immediately begin response planning. The [fake] exercise news team used the products to challenge officials on their decisions in a realistic fashion. The GIDB provided everything from large-scale hard copy plots of imagery of cities overlaid with street information, to digital projected maps overlaid with plume dispersion model data and weather information.

"With the positive impression NRL's people and technology left with the exercise officials, we anticipate playing an even greater role with DHS in the future," said Mike Harris, Head of NRL's Mapping, Charting and Geodesy Branch.

Although the Portal System and software are fully government owned, it is openly available for use at

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About the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory provides the advanced scientific capabilities required to bolster our country's position of global naval leadership. The Laboratory, with a total complement of approximately 2,500 personnel, is located in southwest Washington, D.C., with other major sites at the Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Monterey, Calif. NRL has served the Navy and the nation for over 90 years and continues to advance research further than you can imagine. For more information, visit the NRL website or join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

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