Rural areas can pose challenge to first responders when an incident occurs, particularly when it comes to communications. It is the mission of S&T’s Next Generation First Responder (NGFR) Apex Program to help address the varied challenges that responders see in different settings.
That’s why we partnered with Grant County Sheriff’s Office of Washington state to host a two-day technology experiment featuring communications technology aimed to assist first responders in communication-challenged rural environments.
Grant County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies including, the Washington State Patrol, Grant County Fire Districts 3 and 5, the Moses Lake Police Department and the Adams County Sheriff’s Office all participated.
Grant County Sheriff Tom Jones summed up the benefit of the event, "What we learned by using this technology is how much safer and informed our responders and incident management team members will be. The Department of Homeland Security has really focused on making our sometimes dangerous jobs much safer, especially for rural responders who many times don't have access to such advanced resources.”
The two-day experiment occurred at the Gorge Amphitheatre, one of the most scenic outdoor music venues in the United States, which has Columbia Gorge Canyon as its backdrop. The venue also offers a camping site, a huge draw for more than 27,000 music goers almost every weekend during the summer.
Unfortunately, the venue—surrounded by open farmland and mountains—can provide communication challenges during emergency situations. Our aim in this exercise was to empower responders with tools that can help in the event of a missing person, wild fire or hostile suspect.
Normally, the Grant County Sheriff’s Office’s 55 full-time deputies patrol and cover more than 2,200 square miles and service a population of more than 91,000. During the events, however, close to twenty law enforcement patrol the amphitheater and campsite.
This gives us an idea of what it’s like for responders in rural communities—when nearly half of their force is dedicated to a large event.
To help address the challenges they face, the experiment featured three rescue scenarios, which included a roll call to dispatch, a search and rescue mission, a wildfire encroaching on the amphitheater and locating a hostile suspect at the Gorge.
The scenarios tested first responders’ interactions with 22 pieces of technology, including control operational dashboards, physiological sensors and situational awareness tools designed to improve first responders’ safety while responding to the scenarios.
From setting up a broadband network on location, to having the capability to put situational awareness devices directly on responders, the exercise allowed them to epitomize the “connected, protected and fully aware” mission of our NGFR program.
Wearable sensors connected to Android/iOS applications sent information—geolocation, physiological data and live-streaming video—back to the multi-agency command center used for the exercise.
Having this sort of connectivity in a challenging setting can be game changing for places like Grant County. This exercise not only demonstrates how S&T can help in Grant County, but also how we can help in other rural communities.