Exemplar City: A Model for Geospatial, Energy and Cyber Security

April 15, 2014

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Huntsville, Alabama experiences quite a few threats, as well as damage, each year from tornados, which bring the possibility of downed power lines and put the safety of the public at great risk. For example, on April 27, 2011, 59 tornados touched down in the state and 249 lives were lost. Two EF5 tornados ripped across northern Alabama that day. Huntsville and surrounding communities lost power for several days. That put an enormous strain on critical infrastructure and the city’s support services.

Because Huntsville is home to the Army Materiel Command, the Missile Defense Agency, the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, and the Missile and Space Intelligence Center, plus over 40 other federal agencies and departments, the power cannot just go out on some of the most strategic military centers in the United States. Huntsville is unique in that its workforce is intimately involved in supporting the backbone of our national security. The April 27th event was also unique in that it effectively simulated a cyber-attack on the city’s power and Internet infrastructure.

Huntsville’s Unique Position

Recognizing Huntsville’s unique situation, Mayor Tommy Battle created three technology-centered economic and workforce development initiatives in geospatial information, cybersecurity and energy so that professionals in these disciplines could support the public safety interests of both the city and the nation. These initiatives, GEO Huntsville, Cyber Huntsville and Energy Huntsville, both separately and collaboratively, are raising awareness of the need to establish best practices and policies to respond to natural or man-made threats to national security. Now, Huntsville wants to foster collaboration with other cities by sharing and expanding this knowledge through an innovative approach called Exemplar City.

The Exemplar City Model

What is an Exemplar City? Exemplar City is a model that municipal governments can follow when faced with a wide variety of challenges such as responding to a local emergency or crisis, mitigating economic impacts, dealing with workforce skill or capacity issues, or facing overwhelming infrastructure demands. Exemplar City, as a doctrine, is flexible, scalable and adaptable for use by stakeholders across the whole community and applicable for use in the geospatial, cyber security and energy sectors. The objective is to build safe, secure and sustainable communities using an integrated location-based technology foundation. As such, Exemplar City intends to test geospatial technology integration methods, to create new best practices for governance concerning sharing geospatial data, and to build workflows for automated information dissemination.

Energy and Cyber Infrastructure

The utility infrastructure is a vital link in securing a municipality’s ability to handle a crisis. As a result of the catastrophic storms of April 27, Cyber and Energy Huntsville planned and conducted a joint summit: “Resilience of our Critical Infrastructure and Cyber Security – Lessons Learned after the Disaster - Impacts and Lessons Learned Following the April 27, 2011 Tornadoes.” The summit was held on June 28, 2011 and resulted in valuable plans to mitigate the impacts of the next storms and to build models for the rest of the country to follow and implement in an effort to make our country more resilient. In November 2011, the Tennessee Valley Corridor hosted a second meeting called "Turning Regional Resiliency into Economic Development.” This eventincluded utility organizations impacted by the April 27th tornados including the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Huntsville Utilities.

Energy enhances our community’s quality of life and the jobs and economic development that go with it. Certainly, energy represents one of the largest global opportunities of our time to create jobs. Decisively, Energy Huntsville began to develop the energy business base to allow for education and training, project development to reinforce energy independence, and the marketing strategy to support economic development in the Huntsville community. With this goal, Energy Huntsville has spent the past several years, bringing together over 200 local companies that are in the energy business or have capabilities needed by the energy business. This expertise fosters the community’s resilience in the event of a catastrophic occurrence due to natural disaster, cyber attack or grid outage. Energy Huntsville is promoting business growth by supporting energy technology and energy efficiency contract opportunities in both the private and federal sectors. There are a number of energy pilot projects planned that will support the Exemplar City concept which will contribute to safer, more secure and more sustainable communities. Today, we are planning the resiliency of our own community – how to be resilient. Tomorrow, our efforts will create jobs that will assist other communities as they strive toward resiliency.

Blueprint for Safety: A Pilot Project

In January 2014, members of GEO Huntsville’s GEOINT and Responder working groups launched the rapid disaster response regional pilot program known as “Blueprint for Safety.” Work is underway to discover, define and test current data collection and technology integration methods.  The working groups aim to demonstrate how existing and emerging technologies can enhance geospatial intelligence gathering through information sharing platforms to improve multi-jurisdictional rapid response.  The team will incorporate a variety of new on-demand, online, self-service technologies and methods, one of which is a new toolset created by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's (NGA) Integrated Working Group - Readiness, Response, and Recovery (IWG-R3) team for public safety use. Huntsville will utilize the IWG-R3’s workflow tool suite of open source code that is available on GitHub (see image of pilot project below). In addition, it will access GeoQ to collect geospatial features using automatic notification, and manage feature collection using Structured Observation Management (SOM) from among others. Finally, it will employ crowdsourcing, gamification, RFI creation and management, and the Event Page toolset to enhance information gathering and sharing during critical events. This solution, then, provides sufficient and effective transparency. Both GeoQ and Event Page employ new cloud-based methods built upon standards-based, open architectures. Multi-level access and cyber security measures will be applied to actionable information to facilitate better situational awareness and understanding of events in a municipal or county government environment. The mission of the pilot is to utilize geospatial intelligence to protect the local economy and security of the citizens, enabling both to remain viable during a crisis.

Further, the Energy Huntsville team is working collaboratively with a number of Energy Huntsville member companies and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop new micro-grid technology that is now the underlying catalyst for energy resilience. The strategy for many self-contained micro-grids that continue to function even in a “regional or national” grid failure assures resiliency. The benefits for cities, counties and even regions are significant considering the electrification dependency we have across a broad spectrum of our private and federal infrastructure.

In addition, Energy Huntsville and GEO Huntsville are working together with the City of Huntsville, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and others in the Better Buildings Challenge (BBC). The city will host the transparent building data by building on its geospatial platform that will, under the BBC activity, enhance the city’s existing geographic information capability. Coupled with its energy optimization strategic plan, it will benefit the city and all citizens in achieving recognition as a truly smart, energy efficient and geo-capable municipality.


In all, with geospatial technology as the underpinning for emergency response to create a safe and prepared community; expertise in cybersecurity to support a secure future; and energy resiliency as the sustainable goal, Huntsville is fostering the Exemplar City model.


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