By GCN Staff


New York redirects E-ZPass data for traffic analysis

The New York City’s Department of Transportation is reusing data generated by the state’s popular RFID-enabled E-ZPass toll-paying system to feed other traffic management and analytics applications across New York City, although critics say the agency has not made the extent of its traffic data-sharing well known to the public.

According to a report in Forbes magazine, the E-ZPass data is being fed to Midtown in Motion, a traffic management program announced by the mayor’s office in 2011 that uses 100 microwave sensors, 32 video cameras and E-ZPass readers at 23 intersections to gauge world-class traffic congestion in the heart of the city.

E-ZPass and data from the other sources is gathered using the New York City Wireless Network and processed by the city’s Traffic Management Center in Long Island City, where it is used to highlight traffic choke points, adjust traffic light timing and ultimately help the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to 2011 announcement by the mayor’s office.

The total cost for installation of the system was $1.6 million, with $1 million in city funding and $600,000 in funding from the Federal Highway Administration. The DOT says the system resulted in a 10 percent improvement in travel speeds and reduced pollution in its first year.

Extending the use of E-ZPass data and the terms and conditions under which it is reused and stored has not been broadly circulated, Forbes reported. At the same time, the data is not in motion for very long.

TransCore, a company that makes the RFID readers, told Forbes that the tag ID data is encrypted and only held in memory for several minutes. The system “cannot identify the tag reader and does not keep any record of the tag sightings,” said a company spokesperson.

That does not satisfy some, including a Defcon conference attendee who aired his concerns about the future of open-ended personal data sharing policies and practices. “If NYDOT can put up readers,” he told Forbes, “other agencies could as well.”

Posted on Sep 17, 2013 at 12:25 PM1 comments


Large-scale pilot to get a read on Super Wi-Fi

The prospects for using an abandoned stretch of the TV spectrum to bring wireless service to rural areas will get an extensive test in the months ahead, as the Gigabit Libraries Network pilots Super Wi-Fi at public libraries in six states.

Super Wi-Fi uses unlicensed, low-frequency bands in the radio-frequency spectrum — called TV white space — that were opened up by the Federal Communications Commission in 2010 after TV broadcasters switched from analog to all-digital signals. The lower frequency limits throughput but greatly extends its range compared with established Wi-Fi signals, allowing signals that can go for several miles and pass through walls and buildings. It’s seen as a potential solution for bringing wireless service to underserved, mostly rural, areas.

GLN put out the call July 1 for libraries interested in forming a consortium for testing the technology and got submissions from more than 50 library systems, GLN said in an announcement. It accepted proposals from Delta County, Colo.; Pascagoula, Miss.; Stokie, Ill.; Humboldt County, Calif.; eight libraries in New Hampshire; and four locations in Kansas: Kansas City, Lawrence, Manhattan and Topeka/Shawnee.

The library systems will deploy Super Wi-Fi access points on e-bookmobiles and other publicly accessible places, GLN said. 

Libraries, as a traditional source of public information, are a logical place to test the technology. About 15,000 libraries around the country currently have Wi-Fi access, but their short-range signals require people to be on premises. And another 1,500 libraries have no wireless access at all. 

The national pilot, which grew out of a local initiative in Kansas City, will be “extremely important” in assessing Super Wi-Fi’s ability to help bridge the digital divide, Don Means, GLN coordinator, told Government Technology

Super Wi-Fi projects have been somewhat slow to develop since the FCC freed up the spectrum, but pilots began cropping up this year. In January, Wilmington, N.C., and its surrounding New Hanover County launched the first municipal Super Wi-Fi network. And in July, West Virginia University deployed the first such network on a university campus. 

Super Wi-Fi is not technically Wi-Fi, since it doesn’t conform to the set of IEEE 802.11 standards designated by the Wi-Fi Alliance as Wi-Fi, but it still functions on the same interoperable principles. GLN said the national pilot is an attempt to show how combining Wi-Fi compatibility with the far-reaching signals of the TV white spaces can deliver free wireless service.

Posted on Sep 16, 2013 at 1:28 PM1 comments


VA scans veterans' health records for signs of suicide

In 2012 more American soldiers died by suicide than in direct combat. A year later, health care and IT researchers working with the Veterans Affairs Department are looking to use natural language processing (NLP) to mine electronic health record (EHR) systems for telltale signs of soldiers at clear risk for suicide.

“The electronic medical record system stores a very large body of clinical notes,” Dr. Ken Hammond, a retired VA psychiatrist who is helping with the research, told the VA news service. In fact, VA says it securely stores EHRs on 14 million current and former patients. The records contain 2 billion documents in all.

By using new NLP and search techniques, the VA hopes to be able to flag patients who present clear risk of suicide. “We’ve shown that we can use search engine technology to more easily identify those veterans who have attempted suicide at some point in their lives,” Hammond said. “That can help us prevent future attempts.”

Hammond headed a group that identified search terms to query doctors’ free-text notes stored in the EHRs of more than 100,000 veterans. The tools were designed to use NLP techniques to highlight updates in the records indicating a veteran may have had a past suicide attempt.

Free text is more difficult to crunch than check boxes and other structured data, but researchers are using the technology to program the computers to spot meaningful phrases, according to the VA news service. 

Agencies from NASA to the Homeland Security Department are using natural language processing for text analytics projects ranging from scanning social media to checking airline logs for safety warnings. 

According to researchers, a big challenge was distinguishing between a remark or phrase about suicide in the screening notes and an apparent actual suicide attempt, the VA service reported. In this case, researchers wanted to highlight documentation that did indicate a suicide attempt by the patient. 

In doing so, they developed an automated text search that was about 80 percent accurate, compared with a doctor manually checking each record.

Hammond, together with VA colleagues in Salt Lake City and Boston, presented the results of their research earlier this year at the Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.

Posted on Sep 11, 2013 at 7:05 AM3 comments

Early surveyors in Alaska

Digital mapping reaches the Last Frontier

The U.S. Geological Survey has unwrapped 400 new digital topographical maps of the state of Alaska, the first of what is expected to be more than 11,000 new maps updating geospatial baselines and replacing maps that in some cases are 50 years old.

The state’s unique geophysical profile, including a challenging terrain, remote locations and a harsh climate, made mapping difficult. Prior to this effort, topographical maps for much of Alaska were about 50 years out of date and not produced to current standards, which rely largely on high-resolution digital imagery and elevation data.

The project is being spearheaded by USGS’s Alaska Mapping Initiative, a joint venture of the agency and state mapmakers to publish a complete series of digital PDF maps at a scale of 1:25,000. New satellite image layers show the latest surface views, Trans-Alaska oil pipeline data, public land survey system data and updated glacier floes.

Without the updated digital features in maps of much of the state, “essential public services have suffered,” in the areas of transportation planning, regional planning, economic development and scientific research, USGS said.

"The associated advances in human safety, navigation and natural resource management cannot be overestimated,” said Anne Castle, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for water and science. She praised the partnership between USGS and the state for “elevating our visual record of our state to 21st century levels.”

To ensure that they meet current accuracy specifications and standards, the maps will be made using newly acquired elevation and imagery data from multiple state, federal and commercial sources.

The mapmaking will also be automated using software adapted by USGS to create approximately 11,275 digital map quadrangles, covering the entire area of the state. Ultimately, the federal and state project teams want to build a new statewide base map that would be available over the Internet, based on open standards and free of charge.

Dividends from the effort include more accurate elevation and hydrography data to help map climate change, enhanced aviation safety and streamlined disaster preparedness and response, according to USGS. "I can't think of one thing that it doesn't affect," Nick Mastrodicasa, state digital mapping project manager with the Department of Transportation, told the Alaska Daily News.

Posted on Sep 06, 2013 at 9:52 AM0 comments


Air Force, Army plan to share network and security systems

Military departments are following the IT playbook of other budget-strapped government agencies with a plan to share excess capacity on their networks and IT systems, a project expected to save billions of dollars in future IT costs, the Defense Department’s press service reported

A recent opportunity to share IT systems arose when the Army, facing force structure changes, upgraded to faster multiprotocol routers and regional network security stacks. Meanwhile, the Air Force was looking to upgrade its IT systems to meet plans for a Defense Joint Information Environment.

By piggybacking on the Army’s upgrade, the Air Force would be able to avoid about $1.2 billion in IT costs, according to press service. For its part, the Army expects to cut its IT budget by $785 million between 2015 and 2019 by consolidating hundreds of security stacks into 15 joint stacks, which the Air Force will also use.

The upgraded routers will increase the backbone bandwidth to 100 gigabytes/sec, while speeds at Army installations will hit 10 gigabytes/sec, a huge leap from typical speeds of 650 megabytes/sec at Fort Hood, Texas, for instance, according to Mike Krieger, the Army’s deputy chief information officer.

The regional security stacks are designed to improve command and control and are essential to enabling a single security architecture in the joint information environment, he said.

“More and more, we’re saying that some of the service-delivery capability can be managed at the enterprise level, greatly improving efficiency, effectiveness and security,” said Richard Breakiron, network capacity domain manager for the Army’s chief information office.

The new routers will also help the Air Force and Army converge network backbones and gain additional savings. The Air Force Space Command’s Brig. Gen. Kevin Wooton said the deal allows the Air Force to bring on unified networking capabilities such as voice over IP, “and it allows us to put much more of this capability up at the enterprise level.”

Together, Multiprotocol Label Switching routers and the regional security stack improve performance and security, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronnie D. Hawkins, Jr., director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, which is working with the Army on the implementation. He said the project “creates a network that is fundamentally more defensible and more efficient.”

DOD chief information officer Teri Takai called the IT sharing and modernization agreement involving the Air Force, Army and Defense Information Systems Agency “an important step forward” in the military’s “aggressive” pursuit of a joint information environment.

Posted on Sep 05, 2013 at 6:33 AM1 comments