When a critical incident, like a building explosion, sends responders to the scene, an incident commander wants as much situational awareness as possible before he or she sends a team in. I put myself in his or her shoes when I think about the Science and Technology Directorate’s mission to provide solutions to the first responder community, and my conclusion always comes back to being connected to information—from the responders or from the incident at large.
But incident commanders don’t often have access to all the information they need at once. Currently, responders use a collection of propriety products that are not compatible with each other leaving gaps in gathering key on-scene information.
We want to change that. So where do we start?
We start by showing what interoperability could mean for response. Our Next Generation First Responder (NGFR) program has developed what we refer to as the NGFR ecosystem, a suite of technologies that S&T has built or made interoperable to provide responders the situational awareness they need in a variety of response scenarios. To show how this would look in action, we developed and hosted the Spiral 1 demonstration, which featured the NGFR ecosystem technologies.
Using a simulated building explosion as our backdrop, we showed what’s possible when technology is interoperable. Unmanned aerial systems can look at a building structure before responders go in. Body cameras can inform on-scene commanders of the situation both during and after an event. Physiological and environmental sensors can gauge possible threats and hazards to responders and their health status—think about the air quality following an incident or gas that could have caused the incident. The quicker we are alerting responders, the better.
Spiral 1 was just the beginning of our demonstration series. As emerging technologies continue to mature, we will integrate them into our ecosystem and engage the first responder community to test and evaluate these technologies. In the future, we envision an approach based on interoperable standards so responders with different environments, budgets and mission requirements can integrate sensor and communication technologies.
It is critical that our responders nationwide are protected, connected and fully aware—no matter where they are responding. The NGFR ecosystem and Spiral demonstrations is how we will get there.