After the Android Team Awareness Kit (ATAK) was successfully used to coordinate multi-agency responses to recent hurricanes, additional training sessions have been held for federal, state, and local officials, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on Friday.
ATAK, which was initially developed for use by U.S. Special Forces in 2010, is an app available to all government agencies free of charge. Using GPS and maps, the app provides a real-time view of the field. Additionally, ATAK features encrypted data communications and information sharing between various agencies.
The technology was recently deployed in Texas for the first time following Hurricane Harvey. After successfully coordinating and tracking emergency responders, ATAK was deployed in the aftermath of Hurricanes Ima and Maria as well.
Texas Air National Guard Sgt. Kyle Evans, who was a part of the Hurricane Harvey Joint Air Ground Team, said he wanted to implement the technology enterprise-wide after its successful use in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Evans said the technology was primarily used to track responders in the field.
“Once our operators use ATAK in the field, it becomes immediately indispensable,” Shawn McDonald, S&T Apex Border Situational Awareness programs manager, said. “ Instead of operators requesting coordinates across the radio to determine where their team members are, they can see who and where they are in real-time.”
The DHS S&T recently held multi-agency training exercises in Detroit, Michigan. Federal, state and local agencies to use ATAK during a simulated mission. The simulation incorporated more than two dozen agents, numerous boats, helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, canine units, and the arrest of dangerous suspects in multiple locations.
“The training in Detroit was a tremendous success because it leveraged classroom learning and applied it to a practical exercise in an operationally relevant scenario,” McDonald said.
S&T plans to use that two-part approach to training going forward. The first component consists of classroom instruction on how to download, configure, personalize, troubleshoot and connect to the app’s server. The second component consists of field drills that include simulated missions.
“S&T is investigating various communication methods to transmit data to and from the field while adhering to DHS security standards,” McDonald said. “Results of the testing will directly support DHS component acquisitions for future communication devices.”