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The HazCat Project
 

Overview
Client Application Requirements
Incident Command Requirements
Technologies used in the Client and Server applications
Walkthrough
Benefits of this technology
Commitment

Overview

Developing the tools and increasing the capabilities for this country to respond to terrorist incidents has become one of the highest priorities not only for the U.S. military, but also for federal, state and local agencies, as well as private industry. Incidents involving chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons of mass destruction, are serious threats requiring thorough assessments, planning and training. Technical support is key to the preparedness. Putting the most advanced tools in the hands of emergency first responders is an absolute necessity.

The HazCat project is designed for first responders to use in identifying possible weapons of mass destruction or unknown chemical/biological agents. The system consists of a tablet PC application that is used in the field by the hot zone team and incident command software that is used by the agency responsible for responding to the incident. The tablet PC application communicates in real time with the incident command server to send all test results, captured images and recommendations to the server. The incident command software connects to the incident server and allows for real-time monitoring of incoming data from multiple hot zone teams.  The incident command software acts as a decision support point for evaluating data coming from the field and routing captured microscope images to various labs and agencies.

Client Application Requirements

The client application leads the hot zone teams through conducting a series of tests in order to determine what the unknown agent is. These tests were designed by chemical and biological weapons experts to allow the team to quickly determine what the unknown agent is. The tablet application had three main design goals: 

1)      Interface must be simple as users would be in restricted environment, (i.e. level 3 bunny suits for chemical and biological containment).

2)      Interface must be high contrast as the suits restrict viewing angle and width

3)      Interface must be touch/stylus as use of keyboard in bunny suit is not an option

4)      Tablet application provides intelligent screen navigation based on results of previous test to get fastest path to substance determination, (expert system)

5)      Tablet must communicate in real time with incident server so that status of tests and determinations can be tracked with a minimum of voice/radio communications

6)      Messages must be encrypted so that news media or other observers can not see real time data transmissions

7)      Tablet must be able to acquire images from microscope if biological agent is suspected so that images can be sent to labs for analysis without having to leave the hot zone.

Incident Command Requirements

The incident command software is designed as a monitoring point for coordination of teams and their test results. The incident commander(s) may be on site or located anywhere in the world. The incident command software had these main design goals: 

1)      Incident command software must be able to receive images and test data in real time

2)      The command software must easily show the operator where the field agents are in the testing sequence and where they have left to go to make a determination

3)      The command software must allow for forwarding of test data to various agencies for determinations and recommendations

4)      The command software must be able to monitor many teams simultaneously in real time and allow for easily identifying the team and their results 

Technologies used in the client and server applications

Client Server Development was hired by HazTech Systems, Inc., to build the client and server applications for the HazCat product. A previous contractor was unable to deliver a working solution, which put HazTech and CSD under a tight deadline for field deployment of the application. Because the previous contractors produced code that was not suited to a real-time mission-critical environment, CSD choose to start the development from scratch.

CSD choose the following technologies for implementation:

    HazCat Client

  • Microsoft Windows XP Tablet Edition, (allows users to write test results and navigate via touch screen)
  • Microsoft MSMQ messaging technology, (allows for encrypted peer to peer messaging)
  • Microsoft .Net Platform, (allows for easy creation of user interfaces and web services which are the backbone of this application)
  • Microsoft DirectX 9 SDK, (allows for integration of the DirectShow API for capturing real time video from the microscope and capturing audio from the tablet PC)

    HazCat Incident Command

  • Microsoft Windows XP Professional
  • Microsoft MSMQ messaging technology, (again for acceptance of real time data in encrypted form from the client application(s))
  • Microsoft .Net Platform, (allows for easy creation of sophisticated user interfaces for viewing images and test data obtained from the client software)

Client Server Development choose to use the Visual Studio Development environment for developing this application and the application is primarily coded in VB.Net using some components in C# which talk to the DirectShow APIís. CSD was able to deliver the complete application in less than three weeks of development time. The application has since been successfully field trialed and is currently in place at several agencies in the United States.

Walkthrough

When an incident occurs, one or more hot zone teams are dispatched to tests the substances found. The teams take a HazCat tablet and a box full of tests and equipment to the site. On entering the site, the teams start the client application and see the following screen:

 Once the incident is identified, the press the stylus on the button to do a test. The following screen shot shows a battery of test results that the technician should perform. Based on the results, the system will create another screen asking for more tests until a determination is made.

 As the technicians enter results into the client software, data is streamed via MSMQ to the HazCat server which records the results and updates the monitoring applications screens. Here is an example of watching an incident in progress:

 

 Note that the system highlights the current client screen and shows as green all tests sets that have been completed with their results. The commander can click on the thumbnail of an image to see a detailed view of any microscope captures, or choose to send the images to a laboratory or agency for further analysis.

Benefits of this technology

This system has the following benefits to the agencies using it:

1)      Eliminate need for constant communications from hot zone teams. The teams are able to concentrate on their work, not calling command to inform them of current progress.

2)      Automation of the process of determining an unknown agent. By allowing the software to evaluate results and direct the investigation, we have harnessed the knowledge of an expert in determining unknown substances. The hot-zone team need only follow the recommendations of the software for what tests to perform; the software uses the test results to either determine the agent or request further tests until a determination can be made. This eliminates the need for field experts in testing and test evaluation and hastens the determination process.

3)      Allow for easy communication of results with outside agencies for evaluation. By incorporating emailing or results and images, responding agencies can call in the expertise of other agencies with more experience in evaluating slides and results.

4)      Allowing for easy command of multiple teams. Because the command software can handle an unlimited number of concurrent incidents, incident commanders can easily know exactly where each team is in determining what the unknown agent is.

Commitment

CSD is committed to developing high quality mission critical software for its clients. Should you require an application that incorporates any of the technology that you have just read about, please feel free to call us!