Graham and about 25 students in his Red Cell Analytics Lab have used the technology at two Penn State football games, and will continue to hone the skills and techniques they used in those operations as they conduct tests in campus- and community-wide events in spring and summer of 2017, including THON in February and the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts in July. Students in the Red Cell Lab — a reference to military teams, often called "red cells," who adopt tactics of adversaries to test military effectiveness — are trained to recognize security threats, analyze disaster responses and use critical thinking to evaluate and manage threats.
During the exercises, team members take a mobile app — MAGE — into the field to gather and instantly report data back to team members working as analysts. That information is then relayed back to GeoQ, which can help emergency managers better assess, visualize and direct help.
"Unless you've been on the scene of a disaster, it's probably hard to imagine just how chaotic and fluid things are," said Graham. "Allowing teams to instantly gather and report back data to analysts gives the responders a chance to better pinpoint needs and reposition assets and personnel to those areas."
The Red Cell student researchers are gaining invaluable experience during the training sessions. Several are interested in careers where they may be called on to use GeoQ or similar technologies, said Graham.
"Many of these student researchers are aiming at careers where they will be using tools like this," added Graham. "This gives us a chance to engage the student researcher in the application of a cutting-edge tool that is being introduced by our federal sponsor."
The students say they appreciate the real-world experience, regardless of their future careers.
"I think that everyone that is working on this project has an interest in doing some sort of analysis for the government whether that's in an agency, or another organization, and that's what drew a lot of the people to the project," says Leona Kretzu, a senior in security and risk analysis. "But, you can also see how this will really help people, and that makes this a rewarding project."
The project is also providing feedback about the technology, according to team member Nichole Jenkins, a recent graduate in security and risk analysis.
"One thing we noticed was that when you had a lot of incidents in a certain area, it became very difficult to understand on a map," said Jenkins. "The data became stacked up. We wondered: Could we make this information three-dimensional to give the analysts a real sense of what was going on?"
As the Red Cell Lab students encountered problems and issues, they documented these for the GeoQ software developers to address.
"Some issues the team is working on and addressing on their own," said Nick Giacobe, research associate and lecturer in information sciences and technology. "Others are being submitted to the community of open-source developers. Our goal is to identify the workforce-related issues so that emergency managers across the country are more likely to use it."
Giacobe added that the issues include software modifications, training materials and documentation.
"It can sometimes be difficult to even install and configure a product like GeoQ," said Giacobe. "The easier we make it, the more likely it will be used."