A leading-edge technology that has transformed Civil Air Patrol into the world’s largest volunteer geospatial emergency management agency has won the gold medal in CAP’s inaugural Maj. Gen. Mark Smith JanEX Prize competition.
The award, announced Aug. 27 at the CAP National Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, went to a five-member team – Capt. Scott Kaplan of the Virginia Wing, Lt. Col. Brian Cuce of the Pennsylvania Wing,, Maj. Mike Zabetakis and Capt. Cole Brown of the Maryland Wing and 2nd Lt. Oliwia Baney of the California Wing, all of whom joined to create the Geospatial Center of Excellence.
Kaplan is Virginia Wing Group 3 deputy commander, Cuce is Pennsylvania Wing director of operations, Zabetakis and Brown are Maryland Wing assistant directors of emergency services, and Baney is assistant public affairs officer and assistant administrative officer for the California Wing’s Jon E. Kramer Composite Squadron 10..
The team has already been honored this year by the U.S. Air Force’s Northern Command for its work.
In part, the center obliterates geographic boundaries through technology, empowering senior members and cadets — pilots and nonflyers — throughout the organization to assist in missions without leaving their homes.
For example, members and cadets from 27 wings were able to assist in CAP efforts in the recent flooding in eastern Kentucky.
The team was chosen from 191 entries across all eight CAP regions, said CAP’s chief information officer, Kathy Conyers.
Other medalists were:
Maj. Steve Groner, who created TRACS, which “integrates ADS-B and FlightRadar24 data to provide comprehensive mission information, including visual tracking and display of aircraft location.” TRACS access can be requested online. Groner is IT director for both the Pacific Coast Region. Wing and the California Wing.
Second Lt. James Burtoft, information technology for the Pennsylvania Wing’s Nittany Composite Squadron 338, created CAP Audio Book Static Podcasts, which “provides a mobile device-friendly format for CAP’s audiobook library by re-platforming them as static podcasts.”
Second Lt. John Douglas, aerospace education officer for the Virginia Wing’s Burke Composite Squadron, created “A Day in the Life Cadet Job Shadowing,” providing cadets with day-long shadowing events where they can experience the work of professionals in STEM-related fields.”
Conyers was part of the JanEX team that selected the medalists. Each award-winning idea was not only innovative but also could be put into practice.
“Something we looked at when we were scoring (the projects) was ‘Is this something that was doable?’“ Conyers said. “You know, a CAP spacecraft that could land on Mars is pretty cool, but it’s not attainable.”
She added, “If they’re not practical, you can’t see progress. You can’t see things happen. And if you don’t see things happen, then it’s all very esoteric. You don’t get any momentum from showing ‘Hey, we can do this,’ but not so practical that it’s not imaginative.”
The Geospatial Center for Excellence hit the ground running since its launch, contributing to eight missions in the past year, most recently the Pennsylvania Kentucky floods and a search and rescue effort in California.
These efforts and the geospatial team’s submission give that capability “a higher purpose,” Conyers said.
“There’s nothing that keeps me from participating in a geospatial mission, so it allows us to formally look across boundaries, removing those boundaries for CAP participation in missions to true collaboration,” Conyers said.
The prize is named for Maj. Gen. Mark Smith, CAP national commander from August 2017-August 2021. Smith, along with the Board of Governors, added Innovation as one of CAP’s strategic goals.
“[Smith’s] leadership helped transform our culture toward continuous improvement — one that welcomes innovative and creative solutions,” Maj. Gen. Edward D. Phelka, who succeeded Smith as national commander last year, said when the new award was announced in March.
The data the geospatial team collected in the recent flooding is still being used to help connect the Federal Emergency Management Agency, state, and local agencies with victims and their families, Kaplan said.
The Geospatial Center for Excellence has worked in response to hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, floods, and search and rescue. But the technology can do much more, providing data to the CAP boardroom and the squadron room, to Capitol Hill and to local emergency operations center, Kaplan said.
“It answers your business questions. It answers your operations questions. It answers your ability to support disasters,” he said.
Consider this: The already-booming geospatial technology is projected to be a $1.3 trillion industry by 2030.
“Not only is CAP going in the future. CAP traditionally helped small groups of people, hundreds of people, maybe thousands … ground teams, search, rescue,” Kaplan said. “We’re now helping tens of thousands of people in the response. It’s changing how damage response is done in this country.”
The JanEX prize means CAP is committed to geospatial technology, Kaplan said.
“By recognizing that this is something that CAP needs to get fully behind from the top down throughout all the wings and squadrons … CAP has finally bought in and is willing to put resources behind it.”