New Software Adds Mobile Connection for Ops Personnel at Los Angeles Int'l

Ronnie Garrett
Published in: 

Although the 2013 shooting incident at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) was resolved in just three minutes, six people were wounded and a TSA officer lost his life. The tragic event left permanent scars on the airport...and also prompted an extensive review of response operations at the facility that serves more than 70 million people annually.

Efforts to improve situational awareness, provide a common operating picture and enhance emergency operations in the field took center stage. Many focused on LAX's Airport Response Coordination Center (ARCC), a facility created in 2010 to improve situational awareness throughout the property by integrating multiple functions into a single command center.

Siemens, the airport's technology operations and maintenance vendor, played a key role in the center's original development and post-incident improvement efforts. Kyle Heaton, the company's business development manager for U.S. airports, has been a part of the ongoing process since the facility's inception. Before LAX added the center, "all departments-operations, facilities, police, fire-were spread out in different rooms and buildings throughout the airport," he recalls. "The ARCC got everyone in the same room."

Project: Interoperable Mobile Situational Awareness Software System
Location: Los Angeles Int'l Airport
Operations & Maintenance Vendor: Siemens
Engineering Firm: AECOM
Security Software: Qognify 
Cost: $2.1 million
Key Benefits: Enhanced situational awareness; improved response time; support for Part 139 inspections & associated reports

The ARCC solved many problems by helping managers coordinate field personnel performing landside and airside operations around the clock; but it didn't fix everything, explains Heaton. After the active shooter incident, Jacqueline Yaft, deputy executive director for Operations and Emergency Management at Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) at the time, concluded that field operations personnel lacked immediate access to situational awareness and a common operating picture-a condition LAX officials deemed unacceptable.  

This chain of events confirmed the importance of a $2.1 million enhancement to Situator, the situation and video management software from Qognify (formerly NICE Security) LAX was using in its ARCC. The enhancement extends eGIS (enterprise geographic information system) and situation management capabilities to the field, which provides a common operating picture for irregular operations, emergency events, Part 139 inspections, etc. - all via mobile devices. 

The map in the GIS software is key to boosting collaboration, because it enables responders and ARCC personnel to exchange visual information using an aerial photo or facility diagram as a backdrop. Users can visualize the same incident on a map and engage in interactive dialogue via the comments log as the incident unfolds. Response plans can be shared by annotating them on the system, and personnel can mark a perimeter and highlight evacuation routes by simply drawing on the map. The application also takes advantage of inherent iPad features like voice-to-text, so users can enter comments by speaking instead of typing.  

"The purpose of the ARCC was to establish a central location for all the groups responsible for airport operations. That was the primary focus," reviews Melodie Johnson, division director of airport and public safety systems at LAX. "But then, we needed to provide the tools to facilitate a common operating picture and situational awareness." 

Finding Info
When the airport purchased Situator for its ARCC in 2011, the new technology allowed LAX to integrate security and operational intelligence and generate automated adaptive response plans. "Situator provided a solution that allowed officials to document their standard operating procedures [SOPs] electronically to manage any incident on the airport campus," Johnson comments. "It gave them consistency with how each particular incident was managed." 

Importantly, the system provided field personnel involved with an incident a checklist of tasks to be performed; but airport officials weren't impressed with how the information was delivered. Operations personnel used two-way radios and telephones to contact the ARCC to report incidents, document where they were taking place, provide updates, etc. Operations superintendents at the ARCC would then assign technicians to handle the situation via more phone calls or radio communications. 

"No maps were used to communicate location; it was all done verbally," recalls Johnson. Dominic Nessi, the airport's chief information officer at the time, believed LAX needed a tool that allowed field personnel to communicate with the ARCC via mobile technology. That's when the airport partnered with Qognify and aviation engineering firm AECOM to devise a GIS-based mobile solution. Qognify and AECOM determined that the best way to provide field personnel with remote access to information was to leverage LAX's existing incident management system and integrate it with ArcGIS for Server, which allows maps and geographic information to be accessed from mobile devices.

The resulting project, funded from LAX's operating budget, also added the ability to capture information about airport tenants within the facility. Now, if there is an emergency or need for evacuation, operations staff can readily identify which leaseholders are affected and notify them quickly. "They needed a GIS tool to identify who was in a lease and have a visual of their space," Johnson explains. 

The new system also facilitates Part 139 inspections that LAX crews perform three times per day. Previously, when operations personnel inspected the airfield, they contacted the facility maintenance department to report discrepancies in striping, lighting, pavement conditions and other airfield elements. With recent enhancements to LAX's software, crews can now use electronic tablets to initiate work orders or post service requests directly to Maximo, the airport's work order management software. 

Leveraging GIS
It took designers two years to create Qognify Situator eGIS Web Application, the enterprise GIS program that adds spatial and Web capabilities to the company's Situator program. 

"Most airports have GIS. You need to know where everything is located," says Danny Peleg, director of Business Development at Qognify. He cites the example of GIS helping firefighters find a key water valve during a large fire at Miami International Airport to illustrate the technology's value. "We always leverage GIS," he notes. 

At LAX, the enterprise GIS program runs on department-issued iPads. (Currently, there are 140, but more purchases are planned.) Using the mobile tablets, field personnel initiate response for incidents that run the gamut from leaky toilets and burned out light bulbs, to runway debris and fuel spills. They simply use the GIS application to mark where they are on a map and add information such as photos, incident type, etc. Details are automatically sent to ARCC staff, who review the information, determine what action is needed and dispatch field personnel to the specific location. When technicians arrive, they pull up event-specific workflows and follow preplanned response procedures. All actions are recorded, time-stamped and logged in a central database. 

The GIS and Part 139 inspections function on the iPads show field operations staff their precise spatial location relative to assets they are inspecting. When they see an issue that needs to be addressed, field personnel mark the exact location on the interactive asset map. "With this tool, we give them the ability to initiate a request for repair. It provides the GPS location of the discrepancy, and then Maximo sends back the service request number and status," Johnson describes. "Every time the status of that particular incident changes, an update is sent to Situator; so at the end of the year, our operations staff can produce one report that contains all the information they need." 

The program simplifies FAA-required Part 139 reports, because all of the necessary records are housed in a central repository. "They can pull reports together to show all the inspections that took place, where discrepancies were found, what the fix was, and how long it took to fix it," Johnson says. Before LAX had the new program, staff had to draw information from two separate systems and combine them into a single report. "It was an arduous task considering the number of inspections they had each day, multiplied by 365 days a year," she comments. 

The system is also designed to help with situations such as unattended bags in the terminal. Operations personnel can use the GIS capabilities to annotate where an unattended bag is located and dispatch security or law enforcement personnel to investigate. If the situation requires evacuating travelers and airport workers in the area, personnel can quickly view tenant information in the system to determine who will be affected.

Data Dashboard
ARCC personnel use a Situation Status Display System from Siemens to classify alerts by importance. Heaton cites the following potential situation to explain the system's value: It's noon in the Bradley Terminal and back-to-back A-380s are arriving. There's a central elevator stopped in the terminal and a fuel spill on a taxiway. ARCC personnel would likely see a red light pop up for the fuel spill and a yellow light for the elevator, indicating which incident should be handled first. "A red light indicates a mission-critical situation that you need to get maintenance working on immediately, and this is designated as a high alert," he explains. "This tool provides real-time information that is actionable intelligence that helps shift managers make good, effective management decisions." 

During crisis situations like the active shooter incident at LAX, operations throughout the rest of an airport usually continue while officials take care of the emergency, emphasizes Heaton. "While you're managing one incident, you have seven other terminals in operation," he elaborates. "This dashboard allows you to make operational decisions based on the data in front of you." 

Peter Sonnenfeld, director of aviation information technology solutions for Siemens, calls the dashboard a "health monitoring system" that allows airports to assess and display their functionality in real time. "Airports are a complex mix of operations," he comments. "One change here can have an effect over there, and operations personnel are not necessarily aware of these impacts unless they have a tool that makes them visible." 

Siemens' dashboard also provides operations personnel with predictive capabilities that enable them to anticipate issues before they arise and nip problems in the bud, Sonnenfeld adds. 

Continuous Improvement 
Besides streamlining work and response processes, LAX's integrated solution also stores data for reporting and analysis. This is an immense improvement over prior years when reports for incidents had to be constructed manually by merging data from various sources, notes Johnson. Extracting information the old way also hampered efforts to perform meaningful trend analysis and made it difficult to conduct trunk top exercises and  "hot wash" sessions to review lessons learned, she adds.

By integrating and storing data, LAX's new system can automatically generate comprehensive reports of incidents, including time-stamped records of action taken and comments exchanged. This allows personnel to fully reconstruct an event and glean lessons learned to improve responses to future events. 

The level of details captured, along with geospatial references, will also help LAX identify specific areas of the airport experiencing repetitive issues. As such, it will allow management to pinpoint issues to specific assets, service providers, infrastructure weaknesses, etc. Such data can be used to drive procedural changes and operational improvements. 

Emergency Operations

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