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Commander's 'dashboard' will highlight high-risk behavior in Soldiers

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Dec. 11, 2012) -- In February, the Army proposes to make available to commanders a new online software application called the "Commander's Risk Reduction Dashboard."

The dashboard will consolidate information from multiple Army databases and present to commanders a concise report about which Soldiers in their unit have been involved with at-risk behaviors, some of which may be associated with suicide, and when those instances occurred.

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Reports generated by the Commander's Risk Reduction Dashboard, or CRRD, will be used by commanders to make decisions on how best to help Soldiers through intervention activities. The CRRD effort is in response to an increase in suicides in the Army. In July, for instance, the Army experienced 26 suicides, the highest number since the Army started keeping track in 2009.

The is just one of many initiatives the Army is looking at to help stem suicides in the service. The Army is also looking at increased training and awareness for commanders, Soldiers and civilians about risk behaviors, said Donna Clouse, Risk Reduction program manager, Army Center for Substance Abuse Programs, Army G1.

"We know that commanders are concerned with the health and well-being of their units," said Clouse. "And so the intent of this dashboard is to display data to enable commanders to make informed decisions about intervention strategies, and assist in helping commanders respond earlier to the warning signs."

The CRRD is being developed by the Army's Communications-Electronics Command at the request of the Army's G-1. The dashboard that is expected to be released in February will serve as an "interim solution." It's expected a more robust "full solution" will become available about two years from now.

The interim CRRD will highlight for commanders at company and battalion level instances where Soldiers have displayed any of 14 critical risk factors that could indicate they could be at risk. Some of those behaviors include illicit drug positives, crimes against persons or property, alcohol offenses, or domestic violence, for instance.

The dashboard will be able to generate multiple reports, including one that highlights just Soldiers with risk factors within a certain time period; another that focuses only on newly assigned Soldiers; and another that allows commanders to look at a specific Soldier's history with at-risk behaviors.

"The CRRD is going to help commanders recognize trends in Soldiers who may be at risk and alert them to any incidents for both current and new Soldiers coming into the installation," said Crystal Chadwick, CRRD project lead with the Software Engineering Center at CECOM.

Many times, Soldiers who have had a history of high-risk behaviors can transition into a new unit without their new commander having visibility into their history. The CRRD will allow commanders to evaluate a Soldier's history inside a single unit, or across multiple units.

"The intent is to give the commander a way to connect the dots on all these high-risk events that have occurred in the Soldier's life, that they didn't necessarily put together as a problem with this Soldier," said Michael Biggerstaff, Drug and Alcohol Management Information System program manager, Army Center for Substance Abuse Programs. "They saw there was an event a month ago and then three months ago. But they weren't tying it together that this is a group of events that is occurring within a single Soldier that needs to be addressed."

Biggerstaff said the final implementation of the CRRD, still now about two years away, will include more options than the interim version slated for February. The final version will provide intervention options to commanders, points of contact, aggregate unit data, graphs, trends, and "a lot of other things the interim solution doesn't currently have."

A screen shot from the CRRD shows how a commander might be able to view his unit: The report "High Risk Soldiers," for instance, allows the commander to select a time period using month and year. One such search returns five blocks of data, with each block representing a Soldier found to have had a high-risk event within the time period searched. Each block contains the name of a Soldier, their rank, their unit, their "last 4" and the specific high-risk behavior or behaviors that may indicate they could be at-risk.

One example shows a Soldier named "Pfc. John Smith" as having been enrolled in ASAP treatment, while 22 days earlier, he had tested positive for illicit drugs.

With the data provided on the CRRD, commanders will be more accurately armed with the information they need to get Soldiers the kind of help they need, before something more serious can happen, Chadwick said.

"This effort is designed to protect Soldiers before more problems arise, or worse, another life is lost," she said. "This tool is going to help us provide commanders the information they need to recognize those early warning signs and proactively engage in intervention activities."

Developers of the CRRD hope that ongoing Army research aimed at categorizing risk leads to the implantation of an assessment system to identify Soldiers who need immediate support. The algorithm to support this kind of assessment system is not currently available, but it is anticipated in the full solution.

"We hope to be able to build upon and expand the dashboard in the full solution," Clouse said. "We think that once the algorithm comes out and we gather additional information about high risk behaviors from Army Public Health Command and others involved in the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service members program, we will be able to scale the full solution to fit the needs of commanders."

One critical concern the CECOM team built into the CRRD project is a focus on the protection of a Soldier's information and privacy. The full solution will pull data from more than 20 authoritative Army sources. Michelle Dirner, CECOM Software Engineering Center program manager, said developers of the system paid particular attention to ensuring Soldier privacy is respected.

"What we're doing is organizing information from authoritative sources that are already out there today and being utilized by commanders and the Army," she said. "What we're doing is following the same policies and guidelines for privacy of information that exist within each system and ensuring commanders readily have access to a common picture."

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