Datacasting Helps First Responders Defuse Potential School Shooting in Drill

Indiana schools partner with DHS S&T and public television on simulation.

by Jim McKay / November 2, 2018

In collaboration with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), the Adams County, Ind., school district and local first responders tested the viability of datacasting in response to a simulated active shooter scenario on campus.

Datacasting is a one-to-many architecture that “rebroadcasts,” sends video and other information in real time through public television, to an unlimited number of “receivers.” In this nearly 40 first responders were equipped with the receivers and received a video feed and school floor plans.

The simulation took place at Adams Central Community Schools in Indiana, was sponsored by DHS and included multiple agencies. The encrypted video, blueprints and other data helped the first responders neutralize the shooter and also locate and clear a suspicious package in a school hallway.

“This was a feed from PBS 39 [the local public television station], which it then rebroadcast to law enforcement and first-responder agencies that were coming to the school in as close a simulation as we could make it to a school shooting,” said Patrick Butler, CEO of America’s Public Television Stations (APTS).

“The beauty of our datacasting capability was that we could put cameras in lots of different places in the school where we could feed this material to first responders, so they could see from their squad cars and the command center at the sheriff’s department exactly what was going on,” Butler said.

DHS S&T and John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and Spectra have collaborated with APTS on several projects.

One project was the 2016 NCAA Men’s Final Four basketball tournament, when public safety officials used it for communication and situational awareness in making the nearly 75,000 daily participants safe. Officials watched real-time video on tablets and computers and responders in the field uploaded footage and shared it with officials in the EOC.

It was used by the Houston Fire Department to survey floods from a helicopter in April 2016. The helicopter lacked a camera, so officials used the datacasting smartphone app to upload live video and images and send them to the EOC. It was used during a Republican presidential debate and at Super Bowl LI.

Butler said that after a pilot with DHS S&T, Houston public media entered into an agreement with local law enforcement agencies in Harris County to do datacasting on a regular basis.

“All you have to do is download the app, push a button and you can have an integral part in capturing critical information,” said Houston Emergency Management Coordinator Rick Flanagan in a press release.

The television stations possess datacasting equipment that allows them to imbed video into a broadcast and encrypt it. It is then rebroadcast to designated personnel who are equipped with the appropriate, off-the-shelf receivers.

“The station itself is really a pass-through,” said Lonna Thompson, chief operating officer and executive vice president of America’s Public Television Stations. “They’re not making that decision, the originator of the video and the files that you want to be sent through the station and to the designated receivers are.”