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S&T Pilot Aimed at Improving First Responder Situational Awareness

Release Date: October 7, 2015

The Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming the technology landscape. From environmental monitoring, transportation and infrastructure management, to manufacturing, health care and building automation, IoT provides data sharing capabilities that were unimaginable a decade ago. The Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) has launched a pilot, the Incident Management Information Sharing (IMIS), to harness the capabilities of IoT to improve first responders’ situational awareness during emergencies.

The IoT is the rapidly expanding network of objects embedded with sensors able to gather, communicate and exchange data with other devices. It includes everything from “smart” household appliances to sensors that monitor traffic flow and municipal water systems. It is critical for first responders to have new types of low-cost wireless sensors that can quickly make a wide range of observations of an incident, its environment and its effects on people, including the responders themselves. Among those types are environmental sensors (e.g., temperature, wind, radiation and toxic substance detectors), wearable sensors (e.g., cameras, explosives detectors and vital signs monitors) and imaging sensors (e.g., visible light and infrared cameras).

S&T is working with the Integrated Justice Information Systems (IJIS) Institute and the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) to investigate, develop and test candidate architectures, components and relevant standards using lightweight sensors; and for purpose of development of new or enhanced open standards or profiles for interface with these sensors.  This partnership has enabled S&T to assemble a working group of nine organizations from around the world, including Botts Innovative Research (Alabama), Compusult (Canada), Envitia (United Kingdom), GEO Huntsville (Alabama), Noblis (Virginia), Northrup Grumman (Virginia), SensorUp (Canada), the University of Melbourne (Australia) and 54⁰ North (Germany). By the end of December 2015, their goal is to develop and demonstrate a prototype tailored to the real-world requirements of the emergency response community.

“It is imperative that we design this to adequately capture and provide for  unique needs of responders in critical incidents, especially the need to get the right information to the right person at the right time,” said NGFR Apex Program Director John Merrill. “Too much or unnecessary information can be a dangerous distraction to responders in emergency situations. Reliability is essential for any technology to earn and keep responders’ trust.”

Evolving networking technology enables these sensors to connect automatically as soon as they are deployed. Simple connectivity, however, is not enough to meet the needs of emergency responders. Responders require access to continually updated observations, analysis, alerts and predictions from emergency response information systems and mobile devices to ensure they have an accurate shared view of conditions. They also need standardized technology that makes sensors easily and immediately identifiable, accessible, usable and useful across all teams and information management platforms involved in an incident response.

The IoT project has been designed to integrate and exchange data from a variety of sensor types including: Smart shirt (physiological monitoring), vehicle geospatial position (location and orientation), mobile video cameras, laser rangefinder, plume model and others.  This initiative is aimed to develop, test and demonstrate the use of these technologies in a real world-type scenario developed in collaboration with DHS and first responder stakeholders. A scenario and several uses cases have been developed to simulate an incident where multiple first responder domains (e.g. fire, law enforcement and emergency medical) would deploy, discover and integrate diverse sensors and platforms to provide situational awareness. 

The IMIS IoT project is expected to prepare initial specifications, profiles, best practices and demonstration designs for connecting sensors and response information systems into an IoT network that is based upon open standards. 

Last Updated: 01/12/2023
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