Escalating terrorist threats are making urban areas more dangerous, placing people, government buildings and critical infrastructure at risk. EU-funded researchers have developed a virtual reality platform to provide security forces with unprecedented abilities to prepare for possible attacks - before they can occur in real life.
The system developed within the VASCO project has a high potential to be placed on the market. It combines the latest advances in machine vision, virtual reality, simulation, disaster management tools and geographical mapping technologies.
It enables the rapid 3D reconstruction of real-world locations in a virtual environment, where security and contingency plans can be safely devised and strategies assessed against a wide variety of threat scenarios.
Being able to study the risks related to a particular site, whether a government building, a school or a shopping mall, and virtually assess security plans against different threat scenarios offers major social and economic benefits, says Olivier Balet, chief technology officer at VASCO project coordinator DIGINEXT in France.
The approach enabled by VASCO avoids the costs and annoyance created by real-life tactical planning exercises. It avoids stressing the local population and does not monopolise the time of security forces or even require closing the site.
Most importantly, the approach allows all manner of security personnel, from police and civil defence to fire crews and medical teams, to efficiently collaborate on developing strategies to improve response procedures and ultimately save lives in the event of an incident.
Virtual models of sensitive sites
Working within the virtual platform, security experts can assess the potential impact of different types of threats such as a bomb explosion, a building fire, a hostage situation or violent protests.
Advanced computer vision tools enable accurate and detailed virtual models of sensitive sites to be integrated from building blueprints, 360-degree camera images, video and other data. Virtual reality and simulation technologies are then used to display the reconstructed 3D representation of the site, while mixed-reality technologies such as the HoloLens holographic computer can provide additional immersive representations.
These virtual models of real-world locations can then be enriched with virtual elements for testing and assessment purposes. Crowds of virtual people can be added to simulate protesters or evacuees while virtual security devices such as sprinklers, sensors, shelters and vehicle barriers can be tested at different locations.
For example, the platform is able to virtualise security cameras with the appropriate controls to allow users to see their coverage and ascertain blind spots at the site, helping to determine where these cameras should be positioned in the real world.
The resulting mock-up of the site can be navigated, inspected and further enhanced, while interactive storytelling techniques and advanced user interface technologies enable what-if crisis scenarios to be played out from beginning to end.
The VASCO project delivered a modular integrated platform for the rapid reconstruction of sensitive sites and buildings, the creation of security and contingency plans and their assessment against threat scenarios that users can vary at will without requiring technical skills, Balet says. It is tailored for security planners, building or event designers, as well as any organisation interested in improving the security of sensitive sites and response procedures in the event of an incident.
Collaboration as a crisis unfolds
End users who tested a prototype in Greece, the Netherlands and Sweden found that the collaborative and cross-platform features of the system are effective in supporting interdisciplinary cooperation, not just for preparation and planning purposes but also in real-time as a crisis unfolds.
It enables security professionals and response teams to effectively share information in a way that is immediately mutually intelligible, such as by receiving images of affected buildings with visual information about the known situation, together with annotations, on their smartphones.
The approach builds on work conducted in previous EU-funded projects such as CRIMSON and INDIGO, which have fed into the CRIMSON commercial product offered by DIGINEXT for advanced crisis management. Balet says the VASCO platform is currently in the process of becoming the CRIMSON planning module of this product line.
Project acronym: VASCO
Participants: France (Coordinator), Italy, Greece, Netherlands, Sweden