The Department Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) regularly posts a roundup of key updates from projects currently in the development stages in S&T's First Responders Group (FRG). This article outlines FRG's accomplishments in July and August 2015
Incident Management Information Sharing Internet of Things Pilot
On July 9 and 10, FRG kicked off a highly anticipated pilot program that aims to apply the Internet of Things (IoT) concept to the challenge of vastly improving first responders’ situational awareness during emergencies. IoT is the rapidly expanding network of objects embedded with sensors able to gather, communicate and exchange data with other devices.
The meeting, held at The George Washington University Integrated Justice Information Systems Institute, brought together nine international organizations from the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia and Germany to brainstorm responder requirements in alignment with S&T’s Next Generation First Responder Apex program. Using an emergency scenario of a collision between a train and a chemical tank truck, the team whiteboarded the situational awareness and information exchange challenges that responders currently face and identified several sensors, platforms and data technologies required to meet those challenges.
With a clear road map in place, the pilot participants will now work to build a prototype IoT architecture by the end of 2015.
On July 27-30, FRG’s National Urban Security Technology Laboratory (NUSTL) conducted the first S&T Urban Operational Experimentation (OpEx) event in New York City. OpEx brought together first responders of various disciplines from across the nation to experiment with cutting-edge first responder technologies in realistic urban operational scenarios.
Participants included regional representatives from the New York Police Department (NYPD), the Fire Department City of New York, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. In addition, several members of FRG’s First Responder Resource Group traveled from Massachusetts, Illinois, Maryland, Virginia, California and the Washington, DC metro area to take part in OpEx.
Over the course of the event, eight different technologies were demonstrated at three venues: the New York City Emergency Management/Emergency Operations Center; a local federal office building; and Floyd Bennett Field, an NYPD training site. The technologies, including FRG’s X-Ray Scanning Rover, were selected based on direct feedback from first responders, S&T program managers and industry.
All parties involved left OpEx with several key takeaways.
- First responders learned about technologies on the horizon that could better protect them in the field and enhance their mission capabilities.
- Technology developers left with direct feedback so they can consider modifying their products to better meet first responder needs.
- FRG gained a better understanding of responder needs and gaps to guide future homeland security investments.
Based on the success of this inaugural event, FRG is considering making OpEx an annual occurrence.
Learn more about OpEx and the specific experiments in a recent blog post from S&T Under Secretary Dr. Reggie Brothers: S&T hosts Urban Operational Exercise; links requirements with capabilities.
Personal Area Network
On August 6, partners from the Mercer Engineering Research Center (MERC) at Georgia’s Mercer University briefed FRG staff on findings from a year of research on Radio Frequency (RF) interference—particularly, how RF interference and compatibility issues could limit first responder operational effectiveness during large multi-agency incidence response missions, where data collection and sharing are most critical.
The research informed FRG’s Personal Area Network (PAN) project, which is part of the Next Generation First Responder (NGFR) Apex program. At the meeting, MERC presented key lessons learned from RF tests at eight medium-to-large scale exercises over the course of the year. The events spanned local and national-level scenarios, and marked the first time ever (at Vigilant Guard in South Carolina with 2,400 participants) that such a large number of first responders came together for this type of field testing.
The PAN research effort focused on two areas that had never before been studied simultaneously in-depth: (1) RF interference on (and created by) communication devices, including hand-held, vehicle-mobile and dispatch-level systems operating on almost all available bands, frequencies and wavelengths types, and (2) human factors communications issues resulting from this RF interference. MERC used current and emerging wireless technologies to complete their evaluations.
The results of the year-long study provided several major lessons, which will be presented in a final report posted here on FirstResponder.gov. Moving forward, this research will not only educate first responder agencies on how to best stand up networks to avoid the effects of RF interference on equipment and personnel, but it will also offer standards bodies and manufacturers best practices for designing communications architecture and protocols. The study also makes suggestions on minimizing the effects of RF interference on PANs.
APCO Annual Conference
On August 17 and 18, FRG participated in this year’s Association of Public Safety Communications Official(APCO) conference, showcasing several emerging technologies, briefing attendees on the latest program updates and hosting an NGFR Town Hall. FRG’s footprint at the event marked more than a decade of collaboration with APCO; together, FRG and APCO work to shape the future of public safety communications.
In the exhibit hall, FRG live-demonstrated the Radio Internet-Protocol Communications Module, Turtle Mike and Video Datacasting technologies with project partners. FRG also had a presence in the conference’s App Island, offering a tour of the Lost Person Behavior app, which is now available for download on iTunes, Google Play and the Amazon store. FRG Program Manager Tom Chirhart also showed off an impressive array of legacy radios (he even built the display himself!).
FRG Office for Interoperability and Compatibility (OIC) Director John Merrill co-hosted the hour-long NGFR Town Hall, titled “Protected, Connected, and Fully Aware: Envisioning the Next Generation First Responder,” with Jay English, director of APCO’s communications center and 9-1-1 services. The forum provided an opportunity to brief attendees on the program, which aims to develop the tools first responders need (today and decades into the future) to save lives and protect property while staying safe. The town hall also served as a platform for attendees to ask questions and offer their own recommendations.
“One of the things that was most intriguing to me when I was invited to become a part of this project was the fact they are extremely forward-looking,” English said regarding his collaboration with FRG. “They are actually putting together programs today to help responders in the field not only next week and next year, but three and five and 10 years down the road. And the input from public safety is critical.”
FRG Director Dan Cotter echoed these sentiments in a speech to APCO members at the General Business Session, touching upon the importance of the S&T and APCO partnership. Rounding out FRG’s footprint at the event, Merrill and OIC PM Cuong Luu led a panel where they presented a Project 25 Compliance Assessment Program (P25 CAP) Update. The update provided a brief overview of the project’s status and invited attendees to send nominations for members for the P25 CAP Advisory Panel, which is expected to commence this fall.
To learn more about the programs and updates mentioned in the July/August 2015 Project Roundup, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.