Contestabile Leads Homeland Protection Research
Wednesday, September 16, 2015 | Comments

John M. Contestabile is the program manager for Homeland Protection – Emergency Preparedness and Response Systems at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). He joined the Laboratory in July 2009 after retiring from the state of Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) where he was acting assistant secretary for administration, and director of the Office of Engineering and Emergency Services. Contestabile also served as director of the Maryland Statewide Communications Interoperability Program.

Contestabile is chairman of several groups including the Committee on Critical Infrastructure Protection for the Transportation Research Board (TRB), the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) Video Technology Advisory Committee, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Video Quality in Public Safety (VQiPS) working group.

What work at APL is related to mission-critical communications?
APL’s homeland protection mission area includes cutting-edge programs that address a wide range of critical tactical and systems-level challenges related to border security, multimodal transportation security, safe and resilient infrastructure, cybersecurity, risk assessment and management, situational awareness of the threat environment, public health surveillance and all-hazard national preparedness. The solutions we deliver reflect our understanding of operational realities and our close association with front-line security and emergency response personnel, law enforcement officers, risk managers, preparedness planners and policy professionals.

Will APL play a role in the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet)?
Many of our federal, state, and local sponsors are keenly interested in and expect to become users of FirstNet. APL has shared ideas with FirstNet leadership on its ongoing development as an organization and has participated in various forums and data calls related to FirstNet. Using our in-house expertise and facilities, APL is investigating priority service and Long Term Evolution (LTE) systems for various sponsors. We’re participating in working groups sponsored by NPSTC, which is developing requirements for FirstNet, and we’re supporting the DHS VQiPS working group that’s studying ways to effectively transport video over LTE.

Additionally, the lab supports the National Institute of Justice under a cooperative agreement award to establish and operate the National Criminal Justice Technology Research, Test and Evaluation Center. APL offers expertise in wireless, networking, capability assessments, acquisition analysis and testing, which may help our sponsors realize public-safety broadband.

Please explain your work in critical infrastructure.
Critical infrastructure resilience is another focus area for APL. We have developed tools and techniques for the infrastructure owner and the community to examine the “connectedness” of that facility to understand its dependencies/interdependencies that will be problematic during a disaster. We partnered with the DHS Office of Infrastructure Protection to pilot these techniques in a jurisdiction in Texas, and we worked with a county in Maryland to see how these tools may be applied and refined. Given the state of repair of our infrastructure and the resulting vulnerabilities both from natural and man-made hazards, it is essential that owners have solid analytical tools to assess their infrastructure and make wise choices across competing priorities to make it more resilient.

What other mission-critical projects are underway?
Cybersecurity and operations are a core part of APL’s emergency preparedness and critical infrastructure protection programs. It is clear that the missions of communications and cyber are inseparable. APL has a significant role in cyber research, development and systems across multiple critical infrastructure and key resources sectors. We are the trusted agent for a number of U.S. agencies for Integrated Adaptive Cyber Defense (IACD), intended to enable machine-speed cyber defense in affordable, flexible ways that apply to private and public sectors, as well as critical infrastructure enterprises. Our work in communications and in cyber is interoperable and builds toward increased readiness and security.

What are the biggest trends in emergency preparedness?
Resilience, “whole of community” and cyber are three trends. They are representative of how interconnected we have become as a society and how emergency response requires a communitywide or systems approach. An emergency in one location is usually not contained to just that location. Emergencies can quickly become multi-agency, multijurisdictional events, complicating emergency preparedness. Planning must be done more holistically across public and private communities to better plan for and coordinate detection, response and recovery operations.

I see an increasing use of video in public safety. I believe video is where geographic information systems (GIS) were about 10 years ago, when you had to be an expert in GIS and its software to use it. Now everyone has access to and knows how to navigate a map, turning on layers, zooming and switching from map to aerial view, etc.

Video is going through a similar transition. The vast majority of Internet traffic is now video content related. This will only become more pervasive in the public-safety space. There are important ramifications for video content owners in making video securely accessible through a variety of networks, for the transport networks for sending video wirelessly and efficiently, and for end users.

What are the biggest challenges for FirstNet?
As a subject matter expert, I personally think that it’s imperative that the public-safety community gets behind this effort to see that it succeeds. There are technical challenges facing FirstNet, such as the overall architecture for the system, interfaces to local LMR and CAD systems, video transport, access management and credentialing, to name a few. FirstNet also faces challenges in its business model (user cost), sustainment and governance. The statewide interoperability coordinators (SWICs) and single points of contact (SPOCs) are working toward making FirstNet great, and they deserve our support.

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