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Sometimes you have to play a game to end up with serious results.

That is exactly what happened with those having to deal with boarder security.

The Borders High Level Model (HLM) uses a gaming platform known as Ground Truth, a force-on-force battle simulation tool called Dante, and the work of several collaborating organizations, said researchers at Sandia National Laboratories.

The developed the high-fidelity simulation and analysis program to policy and decision-makers that make funding choices. Click here to view a video on the program.

Cyber Security

“There’s a lot of debate going on in the government concerning the technology and infrastructure investments that need to be made along the border,” said Jason Reinhardt, who serves as the Borders HLM project manager at Sandia. “How much fence do we need? What kind of fence? What is the right mix of border personnel and technology? How can sensors, vehicles and other technical equipment most effectively be used? With Borders HLM, Customs and Boarder Protection (CBP) officials can simulate their defensive architectures, accurately measure their performance and start to answer these difficult questions.” CBP is a part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Ground Truth, initially funded through internal Sandia investments in 2007, is a gaming platform originally designed to prepare decision makers and first responders for weapons of mass destruction/weapons of mass effect (WMD/WME) attacks in metropolitan areas. Developed by Sandia computer scientist and Borders HLM principal investigator Donna Djordjevich, the software provides a virtual environment where users can play through various scenarios to see the effects of their decisions under the constraints of time and resources.

For the Borders HLM project, the Ground Truth software integrates into bottom-projected touch surface table. On this game surface, users can see “people” moving across the border terrain, observe CBP “personnel” respond to incidents and essentially control those movements and “apprehend” suspects. Users can also view a leader board of sorts that shows how many suspects have been apprehended, the dollar amount spent implementing the chosen architecture and other metrics that matter to CBP decision-makers.

Dante, also part of the Borders HLM platform, is a force-on-force battle simulation tool built on the well-known Umbra simulation framework developed and introduced in 2001 by Sandia researchers.

The work also builds from another Sandia borders project from the mid-2000s (focused on the impact of new detection technology at ports of entry) and capitalizes on a range of existing Sandia capabilities, including the Weapons of Mass Destruction Decision Analysis Center (WMD-DAC), the National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center (NISAC, a joint Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratory program) and even the lab’s expertise in robotics.

There were a series of technical challenges in integrating a mature modeling technology like Dante with a newer gaming technology like Ground Truth, Reinhardt and Djordjevich said.

“We needed to create real-time control for the user, and our current capabilities weren’t built to do that,” Reinhardt said. “There’s also the fact that we’re modeling 64 square miles of border, and we need to do so at a pretty high fidelity,” added Djordjevich, who pointed out Ground Truth’s terrain was originally developed at a fixed, small scale. To help overcome some of the barriers, Sandia has looked to some important collaborators.

The University of Utah provided a technology, Visualization Streams for Ultimate Scalability (ViSUS), that allows researchers to progressively stream in terrain and imagery data and minimize data processing requirements, an important consideration given that HLM requires many gigabytes of data. For its part, Happynin Games, an iPhone/mobile game development company, developed the 3-dimentional artwork and the characters found in the simulations. Sandia, acting as the systems integrator, then put all the pieces together, presented the Borders HLM product to CBP and demonstrated how it would allow them to go through all the steps of the “engagement analysis cycle.”

“We learned that the border patrol agents and CBP decision-makers need a tool that offers a common view of the problems they face,” said Reinhardt. “With our high level model, they can play through various scenarios and see how people, technology and other elements all interact. Then, later, they can go back and do a baseline analysis and dig into the details of why certain architectures and solutions aren’t working as well as they should.”

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