Across the country, first responder agencies constantly self-evaluate their tools and equipment. Oftentimes, the technology they use could be taken another step further to solve simple but essential capability gaps responders face daily. Many first responders would benefit from technology that innovators have the know-how to develop, but they are often unaware of the needs.
One of the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate’s (S&T) core missions is to develop new technologies for first responders and then transition it to the commercial market. In order to accomplish this, the First Responders Group (FRG) is reliant on the help of first responders from across the United States. It is their firsthand experience, insights, and expertise that allows S&T to conceptualize and evaluate first responder technologies.
This is where the First Responder Resource Group (FRRG) comes in. An all-volunteer working group that includes members of law enforcement agencies, fire departments, emergency medical services, emergency management, and other disciplines. The FRRG’s goal is to help S&T maintain focus on the top-priority needs of responders in the field. The members are drawn from the major first responder disciplines and from all regions of the country. Each year, the FRRG gathers to determine priorities for the coming year and discuss progress on current projects.
The FRRG 2016 Annual Conference, a three-day event, recently took place in Washington, D.C. Members received updates on and demonstrations of several FRG programs and projects, including Lost Person Locator, Precision Outdoor and Indoor Navigation and Tracking for Emergency Responders (POINTER), Firefighter Accountability and Proximity System, SAVER, and Next Generation First Responder. FRRG members formed five working groups and identified capability gaps and technology requirements related to the following issues:
- Command, Control, and Coordination
- Responder Health/Training and Exercise
- Situational Awareness
- Communications and Logistics
- Explosive Ordinance Disposal
One of the main goals of the meeting is to determine the most pressing capability gaps from the FRRG members and create statement of objectives to be published on FBO.gov. This in turn allows innovators in the private sector to secure DHS funding to take conceptual projects and develop them into and commercialized products. FRG’s Responders Technology annually issues Broad Agency Announcements to describe the criteria that will help the research and development community close these capability gaps.
A highlight of the FRRG meetings is seeing different S&T technology demonstrations first hand, according to Soheila Ajabshir, geographic information systems specialist with the Miami-Dade (Florida) County Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security
“When I come here, it is like a candy store,” she said. “You can get whatever information you want. At the same time, you can throw out all different ideas. There’s no limit!”
Presentations included the Burn Saver Thermal Sensor project and the EDGE Virtual Training platform. Patty Wolfhope of S&T’s Office for Public Safety Research presented on Non-Cooperative and Unconstrained Biometrics, which discussed how face recognition algorithms can differentiate between poor quality images.
“We were pleased to bring together cross-discipline areas to collaborate and identify some of the capability gaps that our country’s first responders face on a daily basis,” said FRG Program Manager Milt Nenneman. “That is the key purpose of this meeting. The break out groups asks themselves questions, ‘What is the purpose of this technology, how will it work, and how does it apply to the emergency response environment?’”
A few examples of the technology presented during the meeting included POINTER, a tracking system that gives the position of firefighters operating in high multipath GPS-denied environments; the Lost Person Locator Project, which recently released the Lost Person Behavior app cataloguing the case studies of more than 150,000 missing people to help guide search and rescue teams; and the Radio Internet-Protocol Communications Module, which extends the lifetime of many older base station systems where agencies cannot afford costly upgrades.
Real world emergencies were used to gain insights from FRRG members on how technology could aid them during an extreme crisis. The Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency conducted a workshop in order to receive feedback from members on a technical demonstration using data from the Sandy Hook 911 Call Center.
These are just a few of the many examples of how FRRG members remain a vital part of S&T’s process to develop technology and solutions to help the nation’s first responders meet their everyday objective of protecting our citizens. Their feedback and direct input into the research and development process ensures S&T FRG’s projects remain focused on critical issues, and the technology meets the specific needs of responders.
For more information on how to become a member of the FRRG, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.