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When first responders from around the nation recently gathered in Washington D.C., they saw firsthand the technologies that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) developed based on issues they had previously identified. This highlighted the importance of their participation in the First Responder Resource Group (FRRG) 2014 Annual Meeting to identify high-priority capability gaps to prepare them for future success.
The three-day event, hosted by S&T’s First Responders Group (FRG ), focused on capability gaps in five areas—communications, responder location monitoring, threat detection and monitoring, rapid hazard identification and personal protective equipment as well as showcasing technologies developed based on previous FRRG meetings and FRG events. At the conclusion of the meeting, participants had drafted 12 Statements of Objectives, including the integration of field based hazard detection instruments and the ability to detect explosive threats from a standoff distance, which will be the basis for FRG’s Broad Agency Announcement solicitation seeking solutions to those capability gaps later this year.
“Who better to ask than the first responders themselves on what their needs are in order for S&T to identify the needs of the first responder community,” asked FRGG Coordinator Milt Nenneman. “S&T must understand the first responders’ concept of operations and the environment in which they work; there's no better way to learn that than to hear it from the first responders themselves.”
During the meeting, FRG presented the Wireless Patient Vital Signs Monitor, Conventional Fixed Station Interface, FINDER, Low-light Camera/IP Encoder, Virtual Training, and several other technologies. These new technologies illustrate how first responder community input on capability gaps drives solutions. “One of those items that I liked the most was that Virtual Trainer. We just don’t have the funds anymore to put on (actual) thousand-person active shooter drills,” said Michael Marsh, a paramedic officer for a commercial responder company in San Mateo County, California. “Using that kind of technology saves us money; so that was a really good opportunity, to see something like that work.”
Comprised of 120 active and retired first responders, the FRRG is an all-volunteer working group from across the first responder community as well as federal, state, local and tribal governments, that provides subject matter expertise to S&T in identifying gaps, developing operational requirements, and testing resulting prototypes.
“I think those investment priorities have to come from the first responder community,” Illinois State Police Chief of Intelligence Aaron Kustermann stressed. “They must come from people who face the challenges each day.”
Outreach and Technical Services Coordinator for the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center within the National Institute of Justice Ben Bolton agreed.
“Unlike a lot of things where they try to force a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, this is people in the field, boots-on-the-ground folks, coming up with the problem, and then DHS helps fund the solution,” Bolton said.
Bolton said he’s been a member of the FRRG since 2008 after a colleague suggested he participate. Being a member provides him an opportunity to impact future technology, and he enjoyed seeing technologies that resulted from previous sessions.
“If you think there’s a capability gap, and you’re always wondering, ‘Gee, I wish there was device I had that could do this or do that,’ that’s what the group does,” Bolton explained. “It’s a chance for people who need the device or item to actually develop it … and hopefully see it to fruition.”
In addition to informing future technologies, the FRRG provides a forum for participants to network and establish relationships that could benefit in future crisis situations.
Marsh said he was able to use that peer-to-peer network he built over the years at FRRG meetings to resolve challenges he faced when supporting Hurricane Sandy efforts.
“We were activated to go to Hurricane Sandy, and there was an issue that was occurring in Staten Island,” Marsh explained. He was in Northern California, and he called an FRRG contact in Staten Island. “I was able to pick up the phone and call someone who works in that area for another resource group … It was just a really quick phone call, but … I was able to reach out and get help.”
For more information on the FRG, visit firstresponder.gov.