First responders are real-life heroes who rush towards danger instead of away from it. These brave men and women in law enforcement, fire protection, and emergency medical services offer aid and comfort across our nation in times of crisis – and they do it without any superpowers.
They may not wear capes, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t incredible gadgets available for their utility belts in the form of cutting-edge technology developed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) to help save the day. S&T focuses its innovation and funding resources on key homeland security mission areas, some of which we’ve already highlighted in previous editions of the S&T Impact Series. First responders are more than just a mission area, though. They make up a critical community that crosscuts all other missions. They boost our disaster resilience, fortify borders and ports of entry, and they save lives during critical incidents. They are often the primary line of defense for U.S. communities, responding to an evolving spectrum of natural and man-made threats.
This is why S&T is so dedicated to working closely with—and for—these extraordinary individuals to improve their safety and effectiveness. It’s also why first responders are the subject of the latest edition of the S&T Impact Series . Read on to learn how we’re working to make an impact for our first responders so they can continue to do the same for us.
Arming Responders with Protective Gear
Responders regularly risk everything for the sake of complete strangers. It’d be great if they were invulnerable, benevolent superhumans from distant galaxies…but they’re mere mortals like the rest of us and they need back-up support. S&T helps make their stressful, dangerous professions more manageable.
The Burn Saver Thermal Sensor continuously detects, monitors, and analyzes environmental threats and hazards in real time. This wireless, light-weight device enables timely mitigation and protection from unwarranted risk. It also gives responders one less thing to worry about so they can focus on saving others.
The Smoke and Particulate Resistant Structural Turnout Ensemble protects firefighters by preventing toxic smoke and soot from infiltrating their gear, depositing on their skin, and potentially compromising their long-term health.
Enhancing Coordination for Better Decision Making
No matter the organization, first responders all have something in common—they want to help people and catch the bad guys. Serving up justice can be tough without a lasso of truth, but even comic book heroes know the importance of teamwork. It’s essential that agencies in different jurisdictions and across disciplines can effectively communicate with one another. S&T helps responders work together better.
The Information Sharing Assessment Tool (ISAT) is an online series of questions designed to provide an objective picture of the user’s current information sharing capabilities and gaps. The resulting report serves as a guide for improving communication systems.
The Team Awareness Kit (TAK) is a free mobile application that helps responders visually track team members and assets in real-time during an incident. It also lets users continuously update the operational picture for all involved through encrypted data sharing.
Providing Access to Data to Get the Job Done
Situational awareness is crucial when a chaotic event is unfolding, and decision making can literally mean the difference between life and death. Since telepathy isn’t available, responders and agencies need real-world capabilities that organize and deliver the context they need, when and where they need it. S&T delivers critical information to their fingertips.
Before first responders even arrive on scene, they must identify a route to take that will avoid heavy traffic while also accommodating any special requirements their emergency vehicles may have, like a wide turn radius. QuickRoute is a mapping application optimized to meet these needs with navigation guidance designed specifically for first responders.
Finding an efficient route is one obstacle, but actually arriving to an incident safely is quite another. The Emergency Vehicle Alert for Civilians and Responders prevents collisions by digitally alerting civilian drivers and other first responders to the presence of emergency vehicles on the road.
Continuously Striving to Meet Mission Needs
Each of these capabilities help first responders be better at their job. And though that job can sometimes be hectic and scary, S&T has their back. Even if they develop laser vision and super strength, we’ll be there to provide technology solutions to their remaining challenges.
An important way we know where to direct our research and development efforts is through direct collaboration with first responders. The First Responder Resource Group (FRRG) is a preparedness think tank of volunteers from a variety of emergency response backgrounds. Their experience and know-how help us identify high-priority capability gaps and then define the requirements for a solution that would effectively fill those gaps.