Improved Analysis of Potential Terrorist Attacks is Project Goal

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In what is believed to have been an accident, a private plane carrying New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight instructor smashed into a Manhattan skyscraper Oct. 11, killing both passengers and injuring more than a dozen people on the ground.

Could a similar crash happen again—except intentionally, at the hands of terrorists?

To help prevent such an incident, researchers from Rochester Institute of Technology and the University at Buffalo have partnered on a project, funded by the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research, to aid human decision-making in the assessment of potential threats from air, ground or sea.

The goal is to help authorities in threat-analysis situations by simplifying problem-solving using an advanced multi-intelligent system to enhance human interaction with level 2 and level 3 information fusion. (Information fusion involves the correlation of data from multiple sources in the continuous evaluation of threats. Levels 2 and 3 pertain to detailed, high-level information.)

Initially, researchers have developed a scenario related to a specific area of concern: port security. Software simulates real-time naval threat-analysis scenarios—such as one involving a cargo ship containing weapons of mass destruction among a group of inbound vessels in an American port. Thousands of sensors on aircraft, satellites, buoys and ships collect and process raw data every second—data which is optimized by software to produce a decreased amount of information that enhances situational understanding by human decision-makers.

The availability of less information may seem counterintuitive, but reducing raw-data overflow, while maximizing the amount of relevant information, is crucial in threat-analysis scenarios, which may prompt recommendations for counter-threat action, researchers say. For instance, in the days leading up to the 2001 terrorist attacks, the amount of data requiring analysis overwhelmed intelligence agents, according to reports. A similar situation could occur involving U.S. ports.

“We have tons of information—how do we use it to say. ‘We might want to look at this ship’?” explains Agamemnon Crassidis, RIT assistant professor of mechanical engineering and one of the project researchers.

The software model enhances situational assessment, or what is happening, and impact assessment, or what could happen, by analyzing information-fusion data in two dimensions: stages (local, distributed and network) and environments (air, ground and sea). Level 2 fusion data is detailed (for instance, where a ship is going and what it’s carrying); level 3 data involves additional analysis (determining which ship contains a weapon of mass destruction, for example).

The project, Hierarchical High-Level Information Fusion Technologies, is led by Moises Sudit, RIT visiting associate professor of industrial and systems engineering and director of University at Buffalo’s Center for Multisource Information Fusion. Also involved are John Crassidis, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University at Buffalo (and the twin brother of RIT’s Agamemnon Crassidis); Kevin Wyffels, an RIT mechanical engineering graduate student; Calspan-UB Research Center and L-3 Communications Corp. The project is funded by a two-year, $415,549 grant from the Office of Naval Research.

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An illustration of a threat-analysis scenario depicting a data-fusion tool for port security being developed by Rochester Institute of Technology and University at Buffalo researchers.