Better situational awareness from public's use of ATHENA app

4 October 2016

The ATHENA consortium's aim is to utilize media communications and develop software tools to enhance the ability of citizens and first responders in crisis situations. CRISMART has contributed with its expertise in crisis mangement in order to improve the system. The project has received funding from the European Commission. Launched in December 2013, the three year research project is nearing completion.

ATHENA held its final prototype exercise on September 27 at the West Yorkshire Police Training and Development Center in Wakefield, UK. The main goal of the exercise was to ensure that ATHENA was fit for purpose and to test the technical development in a live-play dynamic situation. The exercise centered on five different scenarios.

Scenarios centered on the general public and the police

The scenarios were designed to test the system in various ways and illustrate how social media and smart mobile communication devices can play an important part in providing mutually beneficial information exchanges between the general public and professional organizations managing incidents. In this particular exercise, the main focus was on the police's use of the system.

Around 100 people were involved with the exercise, all of whom fully engaged in order to create near 'real-life' scenarios. A senior police officer took the role of Silver Command and made strategic decisions based on incoming information. Other police officers, volunteers and staff took various roles, and the consortium members helped to facilitate the proceedings and send social media messages from the ATHENA app. The knowledge, expertise and enthusiasm of all those involved contributed to the overall success of the event.

The exercise was played in the public order training village, which is a large indoor and outdoor complex, simulating an ordinary city with roads, a town square and facades of small shops, restaurants, a library, a hospital, a hotel, and a local pub. In order to make the exercise environment as realistic as possible, lighting and sound conditions were manipulated and a few vehicles and a police horse patrol unit circulated the exercise arena.

Dashboard collected and processed information from app

Although the exercise was largely an unscripted dynamic event, several participants played specific roles during the exercise and were requested to be in particular areas at specific times performing certain actions. The other exercise participants were encouraged to move around the site, acting as if it was just an ordinary day, and to use the ATHENA app when and where they felt appropriate.

Screenshot of the Athena Mobile App

Throughout the exercise, information from the ATHENA app (text, audio, images, and videos) and social media was collected and processed on the dashboard. The dashboard enabled operators and commanders to have situational awareness, assess the incoming information, post situation reports, and identify danger zones for the ATHENA app users, with the aim of providing assistance and reassurance to them.

Tools for estimating the location of a missing person

Behind the scene, the ATHENA Logic Cloud (ALC) was also tested. During the exercise, it supported an automated estimation of the whereabouts of a specific missing person by using heterogeneous data sources, such as the ATHENA reporting app system, specialized mobile devices, and simulated license plate recognition sensors. The results were presented as a heat map layered on a GIS map. Here, the various colors indicate the likelihood that the person in question was present at specific locations.

Picture of heat map

This solution was a combination of the Dynamic Process Integration Framework and an algorithm, which was developed within the ATHENA project. The framework supported information flows between the algorithm and relevant data sources (such as the app users, police, license plate recognition sensors, and knowledge about the local environment).

The operators could influence tracking by providing additional information about possible/impossible locations, based on their domain knowledge. The system accurately localized the missing subject in all phases of the exercise in a fully automated way. In a real life situation, this would greatly assist those who are normally in charge of manual data management and interpretation, enabling them to focus on other tasks.

Successful exercise

The exercise was deemed a success since all elements of the ATHENA system functioned well and the participants understood what was required of them and engaged with great enthusiasm and interest.

The ATHENA project ends in November, 2016, but the consortium partners are discussing how the components of the system can be utilized even after the termination of the project. For example, in addition to being useful in real crisis situations and incidents, ATHENA could be used as an interactive exercise tool or be tailored to address everyday issues regarding situational awareness in many different geographic locations.

Stephanie Young
Department of Security, Strategy and Leadership, Center for Societal Security

Stephanie.Young [at]