Research Projects

Transportation Emergency Response Application (TERA): Migration Options Beyond 2020 due to Flash End of Life In Reserve

Many emergency software applications have been developed in Flash, which no longer will be supported by the developer.

The selected research team will focus on developing a technology migration roadmap and working with TRB to identify the key requirements, features, and content of TERA that are vital to preserve, and those which can be redesigned, updated, or omitted entirely.

Background (Describe the current situation or problem in the industry, and how your idea would address it.)

The Emergency Management Staff Trainer (EMST) developed with millions of dollars from the National Guard Bureau, and the Transportation Emergency Response Application (TERA) products funded by the TRB Cooperative research Programs that were built on top of EMST, are almost entirely built in Flash. This is due largely to the fact that in the early 2000s Flash was the ubiquitous standard for developing videos, games, and other interactive web-based content. Over the nearly two decades that followed, Flash and subsequent versions of the technology such as Flex and Flash Builder continued to be used to build additional features and components of the EMST/TERA systems. Over that period, other web-based technologies, standards, and platforms emerged, such as HTML5 and WebGL. While these held great potential and promise, during the early 2010s, the technologies were still too embryonic and in a state of upheaval and development to warrant moving the entire system of EMST/TERA over to them.

On July 25, 2017 Adobe made their announcement that set the date for Flash End of Life "at the end of 2020". Adobe's drive to sunset Flash is largely security driven, as Flash is highly vulnerable to exploit, due to the way it uses memory and other issues. However, even then the browsers set up relatively vague timetables for curtailing usage of Flash and how they would ultimately sunset the plugin entirely.

Currently, most browsers still allow users to access Flash content by manually approving, but even that option is going to disappear. Exactly when that will happen depends on the browser being used, as they continue to gradually announce various time frames for removing Flash support. By late 2019, all the major browsers finally announced their definite schedule and dates for completely ending Flash support sometime in late 2019. They are as follows:

• On September 9, 2019 Microsoft made the announcement regarding Edge and IE ending support for Flash on December 31, 2020 (via Windows Update)

• In early September 2019, Mozilla Firefox eliminated the "Always Activate" option for Flash. Firefox announced they would strip all Flash support sometime in "early 2020", but then also stated they would have an "Extended Support Release (ESR) which would allow Flash to work through December 2020

• In mid-2019, Google stated that their upcoming release of Chrome version 76 would disable Flash by default, and that was how it would remain until end of 2020 when it would be removed entirely

Understanding this was coming since 2017, the research team that developed EMST/TERA, Engineering & Computer Simulations, Inc. (ECS), has done extensive evaluation of the migration options for the platform. ECS surveyed current, potential, and previous customers of EMST/TERA to ascertain the potential customer base or stakeholder involvement and determine if there was a sufficient business case for which ECS could invest ECS to migrate EMST/TERA away from Flash. At the end of 2019, due to the lack of a business case to warrant self-funding the development, ECS reluctantly made the final decision not to pursue migrating EMST?TERA off Flash Subsequently, ECS has planned for the End of Life for the EMST/TERA product to coincide with that of Flash in December of 2020. ECS notified the users of the EMST/TERA platform of this decision on January 31, 2020. The panel met with the research team in April 2020 to discuss the progress of the TERA program and to scope a quick-response project to identify migration options.

Objective (What is the desired product or result that will help the airport industry?)

The objective for the proposed research is to identify migration options for the core features, training capabilities, scenarios, and content of TERA onto a modern platform. The scenario learning objectives, scripts, injects, and artifacts created under ACRP, TCRP, and NCHRP are valuable resources for tabletop exercises. The recommended successor(s) to TERA would end the dependency of TERA on Adobe Flash and ensure the valuable and vetted training content established in TERA continues to be usable, extensible, and viable well beyond 2020.

Approach (Describe in general terms the steps you think are needed to achieve the objective.)

The selected research team will focus on developing a technology migration roadmap and working with TRB to identify the key requirements, features, and content of TERA that are vital to preserve, and those which can be redesigned, updated, or omitted entirely. The selected research team will evaluate options and identify recommended technical solutions, ranging from making the content of TERA available through multiple platforms to migrating the legacy content and data of TERA from a Flash based platform to a backward-compatible, new and modern solution that would take advantage of all of the matured "Web 2.0" technologies such as HTML5, WebGL, cloud computing, and new browser extension architectures.

It is anticipated that ECS will document and catalog the existing back-end simulation server, in order to aid the migration and re-architecture process.

The selected research team may perform limited technical evaluation (and, perhaps, prototyping) to validate potential solutions to ensure they meet the criteria required. The selected research team will prepare a draft scope of work to allow proposers in a follow-on project to identify which components could be reused from existing modules, and which could be filled by existing commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products. The ECS catalog from EMST/TERA will be available to potential proposers consolidate the solutions that fit the criteria into a product design that employs the various components, interfaces, and systems to be developed. The selected research team would then compile the findings and recommendations into a draft final report which would be submitted for feedback, and then incorporate that feedback into the Final Report.

The high-level tasks to approach the problem and solve it through research are as follows:

1. Identify Potential Migration Paths and Technical Solution

1-A.Select Product Component Solutions

1-A-1. Identify Alternative Solutions and Selection Criteria

1-A-2. Analyze Potential Product Component Solutions

1-B. Develop the Scope of Work for the Product Design

1-B-1. Describe the Desired Designs of the Product Components

1-B-2. Develop a Draft Scope of Work for the Product

2. Final Report

2-A. Analyze findings, technical test results, and design proposals from Task 1

2-B. Develop Draft Final Report

2-C. Deliver Draft Final Report for review

2-D. Incorporate revisions based on feedback received during review period

2-E Deliver Final Report

Cost Estimate and Backup (Provide a cost estimate and support for how you arrived at the estimate.)

Problem Funding: $50,000

Research Period: 9 months, including 6 months' time to complete the research and development, plus an additional 3 months for review and revision of the draft final report and software system. This project will only move forward once either NCHRP and/or TCRP allocates $50,000 to cost share for this project.

Related Research - List related ACRP and other industry research; describe gaps (see link to Research Roadmaps above), and describe how your idea would address these gaps. This is a critical element of a synthesis topic submission.

With the continuous evolution of existing web technologies, as well as the emergence of new tools and systems available for use, there are many new opportunities for modernizing web-based training systems. Scenarios currently in TERA were developed under ACRP 04-04, TCRP A-36, and NCHRP 20-59(49).

Idea No. 415