Mercyhurst, Penn State Erie and the Center for eBusiness and Adavanced IT launch collaborative secur

Mercyhurst College will partner with Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, and the Center for eBusiness & Advanced IT (eBizITPA) for a research initiative to increase surveillance on the Great Lakes. The initial project will involve technology research into the capacity of existing radar equipment to track vessel movement on Lake Erie by Penn State Erie’s Center for Navigation, Communication and Information Systems (CNCIS), which is led by Robert Gray. The results will be paired with analysis on information requirements for border control, vessel identification and rescue, emergency management and agency coordination and response done by the Mercyhurst College Institute for Intelligence Studies (MCIIS), which is led by Robert Heibel.

Through the efforts of Sen. Jane Earll, eBizITPA has received a $50,000 seed grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development to begin the project, which ultimately could lead to an “information correlation center” in Erie, Pa., that would serve as a data integration point for remote monitoring of surface movement on all or part of the Great Lakes.

“One of the goals for Erie County, coming out of the Bosworth study on the future of the region, was to take advantage of the emerging regional logistics and information technology cluster,” said Earll. “This project not only does that, but also shows the benefits of collaboration with our area colleges and universities, specifically using them to impart specific knowledge and conduct research.”

Phase 1 will demonstrate the potential for monitoring surface movement using commercially available radar sensor and tracking technology combined with existing or emerging information software while gathering the larger scale system requirements and feasibility from relevant stakeholders such as the U.S. Coast Guard, Directorate of Border and Transportation Security and regional emergency management agencies. Subsequent work would establish the feasibility of gathering relevant data and also developing an information center in this region. 

According to eBizITPA President Susan Breon, “In the wake of 9-11, the United States and Canada have taken significant measures to further secure our borders; however, the Great Lakes border remains a significant weak spot. On the opportunity side, this represents a manageable area for developing and testing advances in surveillance and information distribution systems and related shipping lane safety. We are attempting to combine regional expertise in technology and information systems with that of intelligence analysis to address both the challenge and the opportunity. It is a prime example of how we can potentially leverage our regional resources in important new ways.”

Gray and his research team will simulate testing, place commercial radar equipment on an existing tower and then measure its capacity to track vessel movement under a variety of conditions. This will include:

§ Quantifying vehicle tracking for 5-, 10- and 15-mile radius

§ Tracking vessels that vary in size, shape and material composition

§ Creating a tracking database and performing statistical analysis of data

§ Validating usefulness in United States Coast Guard search and rescue, homeland security and vessel intercept

§ Developing hardware, software and intelligence requirements for next phases 

Concurrently, Heibel and his team will identify key data requirements and capabilities to gather and disseminate information among relevant agencies. The results will enable the partners to define a project and propose a specific roadmap as well as identify public and private funding sources for additional research. 

“If we can demonstrate both the concept and our capability to collaborate to perform this type of research, we believe we can attract federal funds to continue developing the project and potentially establish a center,” said Breon. “We have talked with regional and national officials from several key departments who have expressed interest in the project as well as confidence in both Penn State and Mercyhurst expertise and have encouraged us to complete the initial concept test.”

Gray said that the testing will begin within the next few months and could take up to a year to complete, depending upon results and weather conditions. Heibel expects to have his initial research completed within several months.

The Center for eBusiness and Advanced IT (eBizITPA) is a statewide Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority initiative designed to help Pennsylvania enterprises understand and use information technology and e-business tools to be more competitive. It is headquartered in Erie, Pa., and located on the Internet at

The Center for Navigation, Communication, and Information Systems (CNCIS) is part of Penn State Pennsylvania Transportation Institute and located at Penn State Erie’s School of Engineering and Engineering Technology. It supports design, integration and field testing in the areas of navigation and precision positioning, wireless communication, tagging and tracking, information/intelligence, surveillance and data mining.

Mercyhurst College Institute for Intelligence Studies (MCIIS) is nonprofit entity that has become an academic leader in the tailoring of timely open-source information products. Since 1995, it has completed several analytical projects with federal and state agencies and major international corporations. MCIIS also provides tailored, intelligence-related training to public and private sector clients. It recently completed a contract with the Department of Homeland Security to develop advanced analytical training for its intelligence research specialists and is generating training case studies with the Central Intelligence Agency University for the U.S. Department of Justice and the intelligence community.

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