WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – It’s often said that it takes a village to raise a child. The same can be said when it comes to keeping Wright-Patt safe and secure during large-scale events, like the Air Force Marathon.
The 2022 race returned as a live event after a three-year hiatus and was a huge success, according to marathon officials. That’s largely due to what happened behind the scenes and well before the starting pistol was fired at the start line.
Immediate support planning
“We start preparing for next year’s marathon the day after the current one is over,” said Jacob King, installation fire chief. “Because the marathon is a heavy demand for manpower, our planning and prep starts immediately.”
Preparation is a vital component of success, according to King, as he has more than 700 first responders on his team during race weekend as they partner with fire departments in Fairborn, Beavercreek, Dayton and Huber Heights.
“We collaborate with our mutual-aid partners regularly, and we assist each other in and outside of the gate,” he said. “We get on their calendar, brief response plans and conduct walk-throughs to ensure we are sync’d up for each event.”
Six months out from race weekend, King and his team begin working with the Air Force Research Laboratory to coordinate overflights and ground-sensor usage to obtain data for the common operating picture, a technology that allows first responders and decision-makers to visualize all response efforts.
“The use of technology has made our job of keeping people safe much easier,” King said. “The ability to see the entirety of an event allows decision-makers to have the information they need to make the right decision.”
A week out, an incident action plan is approved and released to first responders and collaborating units. King says this plan ensures everyone on the response force knows exactly how they’re going to respond to certain types of incidents and they’re on the correct communication channels. Positions are assigned and they share the plan with mutual-aid partners on and off base.
On race day, Fire Department personnel and first responders are on station in the very early morning hours. The Incident Command Post is established at Fire Station 1 and is mirrored by the operations trailer, which sits closer to the scene of the action.
“Tying everyone together in response is key to success,” said Mike Roberts, the Fire Department’s assistant chief of operations. “The Incident Command Post has liaisons from various units like medical, security forces, logistics and more. Each of those representatives will coordinate their respective lane of support and response.”
The setup within the operations trailer also allows the installation commander to receive a brief from the Incident Command Post and discuss courses of actions. That allows the commander to make decisions with accurate, reliable data.
“We want to give the installation commander the best picture of situational awareness to make the best decision available,” King said. “This process makes rapid decision-making faster, accurate and more efficient.”
AFRL incorporates technology
Before the evolution of technology, it was normal procedure for first responders to keep information posted on white boards, covered with handwritten sticky notes and maps hanging on almost every wall. AFRL has been integral in modernizing response efforts and enabling first responders with a state-of-the-art common operating picture.
The COP is a continuously updated incident overview compiled from data shared among integrated communication, information management, and intelligence and information-sharing systems. Essentially, it is an aerial display with real-time data that further improves the commander’s decision-making.
“It provides situational awareness to the whole team, including the commander, senior leadership and incident command,” said Raymund Garcia, senior adviser in the AFRL Sensors Directorate. “Basically, it’s what shows up in front of a user. We utilize real-time technology to show status updates so someone doesn’t have to pick up a phone or get on the radio to get their answers.”
This technology has taken the operating picture from the incident commander’s mind and put it on display for all to see.
Among many actions, the race director can keep an eye on the temperature, the Fire Department can see where its resources are located, security forces can post updated traffic notices or road closures, and medical officials can list the number of patients currently in each of the medical tents.
“The possibilities are endless when determining what you want to see on the COP,” Garcia said. “We can take the info from the mind and display it on a computer and connect with our partners, like weather and law enforcement, to coordinate response.”
This technology was introduced during the 2015 Air Force Marathon as a pilot program. AFRL tested various sensors and displayed data on the COP, operating separately from event staff and first responders.
Before the race was over, senior leaders and decision-makers found themselves utilizing the digital COP more than the white board, sticky notes and maps. It was immediately listed as a capability for future marathons due to how well it impressed installation leaders and worked for the response team.
“Almost any information can be displayed on the COP, but it’s important to determine if it’s purposeful,” Garcia said. “Each directorate might have different data being displayed, but it all incorporates to a focused response for a larger group. They can utilize a view that is useable for their team’s response – display the right thing at the right time for the right response.”
The eye in the sky
A huge component of why the COP is successful displaying real-time aerial imagery is AFRL’s Blue Guardian program. It allows for a civilian or military aircraft to fly over an area and collect data and imagery that can be displayed on the COP for the response team’s situational awareness.
The program was designed to demonstrate advanced sensing technology to collect intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in operational environments. Because U.S. citizens can’t be surveilled, a legal review had to be conducted and Proper Use Memorandum filed and approved.
“The legality allows us to do this,” said Luke Borntrager, Blue Guardian program lead engineer within AFRL’s Sensor Directorate. “It was determined after the first legal review that no information that we were collecting contained personal information. It was simply data… nothing more.
“Once that was determined, they allowed us to support a real-world event, like the Air Force Marathon, because we were carrying out multiple research and development mission objectives.”
AFRL began providing the aerial overwatch flights for the marathon in 2019. It was able to test and evaluate various equipment and sensor technology for research and development purposes, while at the same time assisting in the response effort by providing that mission-essential view from the clouds.
Two birds, one stone.
“The marathon is a very unique exercise that we’re able to support right here in our backyard,” Borntrager said. “We’re able to conduct a large amount of R&D testing while supporting a premier Air Force event.”
The only caveat? AFRL must change out the technology it uses to provide coverage each year. Because it is being used for R&D purposes, officials are restricted from using the previous year’s tech.
“We have to ensure we have the latest and greatest equipment out there in order to keep being allowed to support the marathon with aerial over watch coverage,” Borntrager said. “Since supporting the marathon in 2019, AFRL has been able to fine-tune their imagery and support by seeing what works, what doesn’t, and what challenges presented themselves and how to address them to become more efficient.”
Base officials said Wright-Patt’s effort to produce a working COP that enhances leadership visibility of installation command and control demonstrates the strength of working together to achieve overall mission success.