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 September and October.
Precision Outdoor and Indoor Navigation and Tracking for Emergency Responders
On September 29, FRG Responder Technologies team traveled to the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA JPL) in Pasadena, California to attend a demonstration of the Precision Outdoor and Indoor Navigation and Tracking for Emergency Responders (POINTER) prototype.
POINTER is a 3D location technology that uses magnetoquasistatic energy fields to provide greater accuracy of motion tracking and orientation in difficult environments. The project’s goal is to accurately track first responders on the X, Y and Z axis, with less than a meter of accuracy error and up to 40 meters in distance. The system’s tracking abilities will be demonstrated at NASA JPL in January 2016. FRG and NASA JPL project performers will provide an in-person demonstration to senior DHS leadership in March 2016.
System Assessment and Validation for Emergency Responders
On September 30, FRG hosted a #STTechTalk Twitter chat: “System Assessment and Validation for Emergency Responders (SAVER): Technology Assessments Help Responders Save Lives and Money.” Program Manager Brian Warner and National Urban Security Technology Laboratory Systems Division Director Lawrence Ruth were online to answer questions and engage with participants about how SAVER can help first responders save money, as well as better understand performance and capabilities by buying new equipment that has already been tried and tested by other emergency responders. Partners from the Space and Naval Warfare System Command Atlantic and General Services Administration also participated.
SAVER works with first responders in realistic operational environments and uses real world scenarios to evaluate equipment. Since the beginning of the program, SAVER has assessed and validated over 600 individual technology products and published over 1,200 assessments, reports, market surveys and other information. SAVER provides information on equipment that falls under the categories listed in the DHS Authorized Equipment List (AEL), focusing primarily on two main questions: “What equipment is available?” and “How does it perform?”
In addition to the Twitter chat, SAVER held a focus group on hand-portable infrared spectroscopy chemical detectors September 29-30 at the Seattle Fire Joint Training Facility in Seattle. Working with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the program invited eight first responders from across the country to set evaluation criteria and recommend real life scenarios to be used in assessing existing off-the-shelf technologies. Findings from the SAVER evaluations will then be published in an Assessment Report on Infrared Spectroscopy Chemical Detectors, available in mid-2016.
Wireless Emergency Alerts
Three studies published in September and October outline new findings on Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). Prior to this event, new research was carried out to assess and gain a better understanding of how to improve the public’s response to WEA messages. The reports are listed as follows:
- Exploring the Effects of the Diffusion of Geo-Targeted Pilot Report Emergency Alerts: This report focused on how Alert Originators can use data to adapt to different types of emergency scenarios and enhance geo-targeting.
- Comprehensive Testing of Imminent Threat Public Messages for Mobile Devices: Updated Findings: The University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) program led a study that examined WEA message formats (word order, character length, additional options) and its impact on the recipient’s response.
- Integrated Public Alerts and Warning System, Wireless Emergency Alerts, Understand and Respond to Public Sentiment: This study analyzed social media platforms and public sentiment online in regards to how WEA messages play out within the digital realm.
WEA messages have been passed between friends on social media and are an important starting point for online discussions on approaching severe weather and disasters. First responder call centers have had to adjust and adapt quickly to the growing use of social media during emergency situations.
Internet of Things Pilot
On October 6, program manager Jeff Booth joined a breakfast panel hosted by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) in Bethesda, Maryland to discuss FRG’s Internet of Things pilot program. Panelists from the U.S. Departments of State and Veterans Affairs and the National Institute of Standards and Technology also provided insight into how this evolving technology is being applied by government agencies.
In his remarks, Booth suggested that though “the value of IoT is yet to be defined,” its real time operational and data exchange capabilities can be applied to many areas that first responders support.
“My community is first responders,” he continued. “Firefighters have four minutes to get into a building to assess where potential life may be. They have only 20 minutes of life in their oxygen tanks. Real time data exchange is critical at that point.”
Despite its vast contributions to various government missions, the panelists also agreed there are challenges that come with the IoT, such as privacy of information and civil liberties. As with anything else, laws will also have to keep up with the changing technology.
FRG Broad Agency Announcement
On October 13, FRG launched its Broad Agency Announcement (BAA), an opportunity for innovative, forward-thinking vendors to work with S&T to develop rapid technology solutions for our nation’s first responders. FRG’s Greg Price and Milt Nenneman hosted a webinar two days later to provide an overview of the solicitation process and offer first responders’ feedback regarding their technology needs.
FRG is currently seeking proposals for the following Technical Topic Areas (TTAs):
A. Respiration Protection for Firefighters During Overhaul Operations;
B. Rapid Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device Assessment and Inspection;
C. Universal Operator Control Unit Platform;
D. Activation of Body-Worn Cameras Without Responder Manipulation;
E. Drone-Based Wireless 360 degree Camera;
F. Enhanced Roadway Safety for First Responders; G. Humanized Two-Arm Large 3-D Robot; and
H. Law Enforcement Capture and Restraining System.
The BAA is open until Monday, November 30. Additional information is available on the DHS BAA Portal and on FedBizOpps. Follow news pertaining to the BAA on Twitter by following @dhscitech or using the #FRGBAA hashtag.
International Forum to Advance First Responder Innovation Launch at IACP Conference
On October 26, FRG’s Acting Director Dan Cotter, alongside international partners, announced the International Forum to Advance First Responder Innovation (Forum) in an Innovation Theater presentation at the International Association of Chiefs of Police annual conference in Chicago.
The Forum’s mission is to assist first responders across the globe in conducting their missions more effectively, safely and efficiently by providing information that may influence the global market to develop affordable and innovative technology. Learn more about the Forum at http://www.internationalresponderforum.org.