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ODU Researchers Contribute to Creation of CASE Toolkit for U.S. Border Patrol

Two Old Dominion University researchers are helping provide the "brains" for a Complex Adaptive Situations Environment (CASE) toolkit, a software-enabled process that will help officer's securing the country's northern border.

The effort, part of a $2.2 million grant funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection, will see CASE research pioneered in the past few years by Sam Kovacic and Andres Sousa-Poza tested in the field for the first time.

"Every researcher wants to see their work go from the lab to the field," said Kovacic, a research scientist with ODU's National Centers for System of Systems Engineering (NCSoSE). "The work doesn't stop at basic science. The end result of our research is that our theories will directly influence how software will be developed and implemented in the field to provide value to the operators."

Sousa-Poza, an associate professor of engineering management/systems engineering (EMSE) in the Batten College of Engineering and Technology, said it's important to point out that Customs and Border Protection employees already do an excellent job. "We're not teaching them how to do their own jobs. They're excellent at their jobs," he said. "The toolkit will simply give them the tools they need to best apply their skills."

The funding proposal "Complex Adaptive Situations Environment Decision Aid Software" was submitted in tandem with Systems Engineering Solutions Inc. (SESI) The intention was to tailor a toolkit for the Northern Border's Operation Integration Center, a pilot site that will begin operating this fall at the Selfridge Air National Guard station in Michigan, north of Detroit.

The heart of the proposal is the novel way Sousa-Poza and Kovacic have creatively used engineering to address complex problems, via the Complex Adaptive Situation Methodology. CASM accepts that there is no "golden bullet" for complex problems, such as securing a vast, undefended border. Instead, CASM helps engineers become comfortable with the intractability of problems, and gets them to accept that situations will evolve, along with the solutions required to deal with them.

Kovacic uses the example of learning to swim.

"You can read 50 books about swimming, but that doesn't mean you know how to swim. There are some activities you can only learn by doing," he said.

The toolkit created by SESI will provide the analyst with the ability to quickly and efficiently extract, compile and present real-time data from multiple, disparate sources; provide tools for the manipulation of data to allow the generation of scenarios and alternatives for a decision maker; and provide the decision maker with the ability to make comparisons of multiple alternatives and assist in choosing an alternative.

SESI uses a proprietary software development process, Web SoNesis, designed under the careful oversight of ODU researchers, utilizing their work in CASM. CASE is the architecture that provides the framework for CASM theories to be put to practical use, such as in Web SoNesis.

NCSoSE's portion of the grant is more than $500,000, spread over three years. The ODU researchers are tasked with providing the expertise behind the methodology, and overseeing its architecture development and subsequent data gathering through workshops and site visits.

The project will also call for upgrades of the base-year tools with additional tool prototypes, offering more analytical tools for agents in the field.

ODU will provide the internal CASE environment for demonstrations, presentations and testing, as well as a culminating point for all tasks to be finalized. This will take place at an NCSoSE headquarters lab in Innovation Research Park @ ODU.

This article was posted on: July 22, 2010

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