WASHINGTON -- The Army’s technology used to root out terrorism threats is also monitoring the spread of COVID-19, and in the process giving Army leaders a leg up to make real-time, force protection decisions, says the Army’s top criminal investigator.
The Joint Analytic Real-time Virtual Information Sharing System, or JARVISS, is Army software designed to target criminal activity and natural disaster information in and around Army installations and stand-alone facilities, said Maj. Gen. Kevin Vereen, provost marshal general.
Earlier this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, JARVISS -- originally developed in 2018 after the Fort Hood, Texas, shooting -- shifted its mission to also help leaders track the virus’ impact on installation readiness, training, and recruiting.
The shifted focus toward biological threats “wasn’t much of an adjustment in how we operate,” said James Allen, JARVISS program manager.
“JARVISS was designed to compile information against any threat against the Army,” Allen said, so using data synthesis, the only real objective was to add another information layer that tracks COVID-centric data.
In the past, specific profiles were developed for installations around the type of threats they were concerned with. The idea of a worldwide biological threat wasn’t necessarily on every commander’s radar until a few months ago, Allen said.
How it works
The desktop and mobile app can store unclassified Army data and open-source threat information from over 80,000 sources, including social media, news media, blogs, and government agencies, Vereen explained. It then translates the holistic information into actionable data to help commanders make real-time decisions.
In other words, when a crisis hits, timing is everything. This is why accurate information is critical to a commander’s situational awareness -- especially when making decisions that impact not only the continuity of military operations, but also Soldiers and their families, he said.
“Think of JARVISS like [the GPS navigation app] Waze,” he said, comparing the technology to popular user-submitted apps. “These apps help users navigate -- in real-time -- our highways and roadways [based on community-driven data].
“That is exactly what JARVISS does. It gives you information to make decisions in real-time.”
For example, he said, if someone uses a GPS navigation app and there’s traffic or a road closure ahead, the app says, “Hey, there’s a delay ahead, but here’s a different route to get you home.” It knows this based on multiple information sources submitted by users within the area.
The GPS app then takes the information and translates it into actionable information to help the user make decisions. In essence, that’s how JARVISS works. Except, instead of navigating the road ahead, it navigates possible threats against the Army.
Earlier this year, one of those threats emerged. JARVISS developers flagged COVID-19 after its initial human-to-human contact, Allen said.
Shortly after, the virus started popping up around the country, and by March, it became a full-on pandemic. That’s when the additional data information layer was needed by commanders.
“If [commanders] need to bring their Soldiers in from off-post locations, or in some cases keep Soldiers on a military installation because the outbreak is just too high,” he said, “JARVISS helped make those decisions.”
The demand for the software is a case-by-case basis, Vereen explained. For example, in early hotspots like Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington, commanders responded sooner because of the high rate of infections there versus other parts of the country.
It’s also used in hardest hit COVID-19 locations. It’s used by the National Guard, which has thousands of troops across the country, and other state and federal agencies. They are using JARVISS to track the spread of the virus, Allen said.
“I think it is critical at the onset that we can provide this capability for leaders so they can do their assessment and be able to understand the data,” Vereen said, and with that data be able to “make decisions they need to affect their formations and the folks that are in their formation.”
At the same time, he said, today’s generation of Soldiers also have information at their fingertips. Through JARVISS, however, command-level decisions can be made from compiled data to protect families.
“As the Army phases into a steady state of operations, JARVISS has the capability of assessing the COVID-19 threat,” Vereen said. “It’s providing commanders with the tools needed to make appropriate decisions, and balancing readiness with the health and safety of the force is critical to our success.”