Newswise — The Team Awareness Kit (TAK) is a digital tool that greatly enhances coordination and collaboration among response teams. This innovative solution enables tactical data to be generated, visualized, and securely shared. The tool facilitates daily operations for public safety organizations and allows different organizations that don’t regularly communicate to seamlessly come together and maintain shared tactical awareness during a disaster or special event.
Originally developed by the Department of Defense Air Force Research Laboratory, TAK was subsequently leveraged and piloted by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) when a market survey showed several tactical teams within DHS components were already using it. S&T worked with the various DHS components to address the unique aspects of their operational needs, tailor the TAK products accordingly, and work with their Information Technology departments to deploy it at a fully accredited, enterprise level.
TAK consists of server and client (mobile app) software which is free for government and public safety use but requires hardware to run on and a tech person to install and maintain the software. Existing hardware and tech resources determine which TAK cost model is appropriate for an organization.
The tool is currently used by thousands of DHS personnel, along with other members of the Homeland Security Enterprise including state and local public safety personnel. It is in various stages of transition across DHS components and is the emerging DHS-wide solution for tactical awareness. TAK’s exceptional tactical value has already been proven time and again.
TAK has supported the rescue of over 2,000 people during disaster response for seven major hurricanes (Harvey, Irma, Maria, Florence, Lane, Michael, and Dorian). The capability is also regularly used during daily public safety operations and national security special events like United Nations General Assembly meetings and the Super Bowl.
And as operational use has grown, S&T has provided supporting resources to maximize TAK’s impact.
New TAK Training Guide Released this Spring
Ensuring users have training to successfully use TAK has always been a point of emphasis for S&T. Helpful resources such as formal classroom instructions, as well as quick reference guides and YouTube videos for rapid training, were developed to support disaster response TAK deployments.
There is now an Interactive Training Guide to support U.S. Border Patrol’s (USBP) deployment of TAK to nearly all of its agents. It offers a quick and easy reference for users to refresh and reinforce classroom training when they are out in the field. Based on the early success of this training guide, it has also been deployed to CBP’s Office of Field Operations as well. This guide was funded by S&T and was successfully transitioned at the end of March 2020. The guide is optimized for mobile devices, since agents access TAK via smartphones and tablets. It was also designed with usability in mind, following the “3-click” principle that users should be able to access their desired content in three or less taps of the screen.
USBP agents will now be able to quickly access desired material to refresh their recollection on functionality and receive relevant trouble-shooting tips. The Interactive Training Guide is expected to increase user adoption and proficiency with TAK, while also reducing help desk support costs.
“By allowing users to quickly access information on their own, common questions like how to re-synch the goTenna or pair a mobile device will become easy to answer for even the newest users,” said S&T Program Manager Shawn McDonald. “The guide will also allow more well-versed TAK users to expand their knowledge of the tool as their comfort level increases. This is good news as adoption of the technology is likely going to rise.”
TAK Deployed in Miami for the Super Bowl
TAK was dispatched to this year’s Super Bowl LIV, where it served as a platform for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) units to collaborate and share information with Miami-Dade Police department. Team members positioned throughout the event and in command centers were completely synced up through the app.
The use of TAK in combination with other technologies during the game enabled the rescue of a small vessel taking on water in the Miami bay. Surveillance sensors detected the vessel in distress and its exact location was shared with all TAK-enabled law enforcement officers in the area. USBP agents onboard a vessel with the Miami-Dade Sheriff Marine Units immediately responded, preventing a possible loss of life.
Incredibly, TAK wasn’t the only S&T innovation that was saving lives during the big game. The Hermes Research Project used data analytics to identify trends and displays visualizations of nearby illicit activities that indicated human trafficking.
And while all of that was going on, TAK also assisted in the arrest of an illicit charter operator by enabling the dissemination of the location and picture of the suspect from a USCG responding vessel to the Miami-Dade Police command center. The information was relayed to CBP units to make the arrest. TAK not only provided a visualization platform for the data, but also bridged the communications gap in the absence of direct voice communications between all participating organizations.
TAK in Las Vegas on New Year’s Eve
Earlier this year, TAK was also used to help protect nearly a half million revelers at the New Year’s celebration in Las Vegas. The event featured a pyrotechnic show that fired off 80,000 fireworks from the rooftops of seven hotel-casinos. For local authorities and organizers, putting on an event of this magnitude posed formidable logistical and security challenges—including closing the Las Vegas strip to traffic.
With S&T help, CBP Air and Marine Operations Ground Tactical Air Controllers were able to integrate live video feeds via TAK at key locations along the Las Vegas strip. Law enforcement and CBP units were fully equipped to identify, respond to, and de-escalate potential trouble spots to protect public safety throughout the event.
As more and more responders begin using TAK and become familiar with its features, its positive impact on our national security will only continue to grow. You can watch our video to see it in action.