As a former first responder, I can tell you that the communication equipment we use is our lifeline and, at times, our only safety net. It is how we connect to our fellow responders and it is how we stay protected at the scene of an incident.
Border agents, local firefighters or police and emergency medical technicians rely on the connectivity of their communications equipment when responding. But what happens when an adversary purposely causes interference on those communications channels? Messages can’t be received and responders can’t trust the equipment they have come to depend on when answering a call.
The picture I’m painting is what happens as a result of electronic jamming. Although electronic jammers are illegal to buy, manufacture and operate, jamming has emerged as a growing homeland security threat. It poses a challenge to responders at the local, state and federal level in our communities and at our borders. Bottom line, it poses a challenge to our homeland.
That’s why the Science and Technology Directorate recently held the DHS S&T First Responder Electronic Jamming Exercise at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico with more than 200 participants from 61 organizations. In simulated response scenarios, we disrupted communications and navigation equipment, which allowed us to observe how electronic jamming impacts response. Responders experienced dropped communications in a realistic-but-controlled environment allowing them to understand the current threats and vulnerabilities of their technologies. Our next steps will be to analyze the results of the exercise to recommend mitigation strategies, identify gaps in training, inform policy and improve responder procedures.
Knowing what to expect is one of the biggest advantages we provided to first responders through this exercise. I consistently heard feedback directly from the participating responders that they will take the knowledge gained from this exercise and apply it to their mission back home. From the research and development perspective, we came away with a greater understanding of this homeland security challenge and how we can begin to solve it.
To learn more and see photos from the event, visit our White Sands Electronic Jamming Exercise photo album on Facebook!