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Ultra-High Speed Apps

National Institute of Justice (NIJ)


The expansion of ultra-high speed (UHS) networks offers the opportunity to revolutionize the way services and information are delivered for criminal justice and other public safety applications. UHS applications ("apps') now have the potential to provide ubiquitous, real-time, individually tailored information and decision-support functions to criminal justice and public safety practitioners in rapidly evolving emergencies. Additionally, the increased capacity of UHS systems now makes it possible to merge and manipulate data allowing the development and use of powerful analytical and management tools.

Hidden Signals Challenge Logo

The winning app works with a school's existing camera systems, UHS network, and gunshot detection hardware to report gunshots within a school to first responders in real time. (File Photo)

Through this challenge, NIJ sought to encourage the development, use, and evaluation of UHS apps that are capable of improving criminal justice and public safety-service delivery efficiency and/or effectiveness; and to develop models for measuring and quantifying the specific impact of these apps. Contestants were required to submit a working prototype of the software and corresponding apps.

All submissions were required to demonstrate a need for the app; articulate the manner in which the app would improve criminal justice effectiveness and/or efficiency; specify the public access databases used to support the app and the proposed method of acquiring and updating these data; and identify appropriate and obtainable impact measures.

Submissions were accepted in two phases. During Phase I, contestants submitted prospectus papers outlining the ideas for their apps. Submissions from contestants that were selected to move on to Phase II included short videos that described and demonstrated their app prototypes. A total prize purse of $150,000 was offered.


NIJ received 15 papers in Phase I. Five contestants were selected to compete in Phase II. Phase II submissions demonstrated the potential to improve, measurably services and operations in areas such as school safety, crime mapping, video technology, and data streaming. The first, second, and third place winners were announced in July 2015.

The first place winner, the City of Ammon, Idaho, received $75,000 for their School Emergency Screencast Application. This app works with a school's existing camera systems, UHS network, and gunshot detection hardware to report gunshots within a school to first responders in real time.

The second place team, the City of Torrance, California received $50,000 for their UHS Mapping Application. That app empowers individual businesses, schools, and other building owners to share their location and other data, such as maps, floor plans, parking structures, videos, and dangerous chemicals lists with first responders.

The third place team, Forensic Logic, Inc., received $25,000 for their LEAP Network Video Application. That app connects public closed-circuit television (CCTV) with law enforcement records and open-source geographic information system (GIS) platforms.

The NIJ Ultra-High Speed Apps Challenge was one of the first Challenges launched by NIJ and the Department of Justice. The developers created a close-knit team to launch the Challenge. The Team included staff from the Office of Justice Programs' (OJP) Office of the Chief Information Officer (OJP OCIO), Office of the Chief Financial Officer (OJP OCFO), Office of Communications (OJP OCOM), Office of the General Counsel (OJP OGC); and NIJ's Offices of Research and Evaluation (NIJ ORE) and Science and Technology (NIJ OST). NIJ is an OJP component.

A unique innovation adopted for this Challenge was the requirement for the contestants to submit short videos with their Phase II submissions that explained their solutions. The judges found the videos immensely helpful in explaining the value, purpose and intended operation of the app.

Areas of Excellence

Area of Excellence #1: "Estimate Budget and Resources"

The tiered prize structure was intended to provide incentive for applicants to develop "the best solution" rather than just "a solution." The prize purse was determined through consultation with industry and government experts familiar with this area of research, along with agency legal and budget staff. The ideal prize amount and structure was considered one, which would draw a broad, diverse pool of applicants with the background and skills necessary to develop competitive and compelling proposals, which not only provided viable solutions in the short term – but also served as a starting point for additional problem solving and app development. Challenge prize money came from the agency's operational budget used to support extramural research, development, and evaluation grants.

As both a cost-saving and risk reduction measure, NIJ uses a streamlined version of OJP's existing grant making systems and processes to process Challenges. Agency science and management staff were responsible for all activities related to the Challenge, with some limited support from agency contract staff for activities such as application review and other related work.

Area of Excellence #2: "Define Evaluation and judging Process"

A distinguished panel of individuals with expertise in one or more of the following areas: criminal justice, public management, application development, emergency management, and network management judged submissions to this Challenge through a consensus process. Their recommendations were advisory. The NIJ Director made final award determinations.

To ensure both equity in judging and the receipt of high quality submissions, the Challenge announcement specified the elements to be addressed in the submissions. It also included well-defined, weighted criteria against which submissions were judged. These criteria were:

  • Contribution of the application towards improving the effectiveness and/or efficiency of criminal justice services (60 percent);
  • Ease of implementing the application by state and local criminal justice agencies, including considerations of platform, and time and cost
  • requirements (15 percent);
  • Practicality of dataset selection in terms of relevance, ease of acquisition, and ongoing access (15 percent); and,
  • Feasibility of evaluation methodology and impact measurement (10 percent).

These criteria were embedded in the on-line Peer Review Module of the OJP Grants Management System, used by the judges to record their individual and consensus evaluation scores and narratives.

During the judging process, the evaluators discussed the submissions based on individual scores and participated in consensus meetings to make informed recommendations. During Phase I, the consensus meeting was conducted through an NIJ moderated teleconferences. For Phase II, the judges were brought together for a full day, face-to-face meeting.

Area of Excellence #3: "Complete Required Reports"

Like several federal agencies, NIJ does not administer Challenges under the authority of America COMPETES; instead, the agency relies on underlying statutory authority to award Challenge prizes. Because NIJ does not administer Challenges under the authority of America COMPETES, results data were not submitted to All information relevant to this Challenge, including but not limited to background, evaluation criteria, applicant instructions, prize information, contact information, and award winners was made publically available on NIJ's website.

Challenge Type: Software

One of the reasons that this Challenge was particularly successful was because NIJ developed appropriate objectives, judging, and evaluation criteria through intramural research and outreach to the field. NIJ relies heavily on the practitioner end-user to define technology performance requirements, because those who have to use a technology are best positioned to understand what it must be able to do and how it might best be used.

Contestants were encouraged to develop their submissions in collaboration with criminal justice agencies capable of providing insight into available data and agency operations; a UHS provider and a software developer. That helped ensure the feasibility and relevance of the resulting apps.

Once the Challenge was launched, NIJ spread the word to interested parties through press releases and social media content; and performing targeted outreach to interested parties at relevant conferences and events.

Legal Authority

NIJ used the general NIJ statute that authorizes research, and the authority of 28 USC section 530C; America Competes Act was not the Authority for Challenges for NIJ at the time of the Ultra High-speed App Challenge.

Challenge Website