The Army technology that’s used to root out terrorism threats is now being deployed to help monitor the spread of COVID-19, and in the process, it’s giving Army leaders an advantage in making real-time, force-protection decisions, the Army’s top criminal investigator said.
The Joint Analytic Real-Time Virtual Information Sharing System, or JARVISS, is Army software that’s designed to target criminal activity and provide natural disaster information in and around Army installations and stand-alone facilities, said Army Maj. Gen. Kevin Vereen, provost marshal general.
As the COVID-19 pandemic emerged earlier this year, JARVISS shifted its mission to also help leaders track the virus and its 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, the JARVISS program manager.
JARVISS was originally developed in 2018 after the Fort Hood, Texas, shootings. It was designed to compile information on any threat against the Army, Allen explained. sing data synthesis, the objective was to add another information layer that tracks COVID-centric data.
In the past, installation-specific profiles were developed around the types of threats specific to them. The idea of a worldwide biological threat wasn’t necessarily on every commander’s radar until a few months ago, Allen said.
The desktop and mobile app can store unclassified Army data and open-source threat information from more than 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.
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 affect not only the continuity of military operations, but also soldiers and their families, he said.
Allen compared JARVISS to GPS navigation apps, noting that those apps help users navigate highways and roadways in real time based on community-driven data. “That is exactly what JARVISS does,” he said. “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 afterward, the virus started popping up around the country, and by March, it became a full-on pandemic. That’s when commanders needed the additional data information layer.
“If [commanders] needed 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,JARVISS helped make those decisions,” he said.
The demand for the software is on a case-by-case basis, Vereen explained. For example, in early hotspots such as 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. The National Guard 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 has 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.”