The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate’s (S&T) First Responders Group (FRG) relies on experienced emergency response and preparedness professionals to guide its research and development efforts. The First Responder Resource Group (FRRG) fills that role. An all-volunteer working group, the FRRG helps S&T maintain focus on the top-priority needs of responders in the field. This series highlights several FRRG members, offering a glimpse into their daily responsibilities, as well as their ongoing support of S&T technology development.
Randall T. Sterett has been with the Orange County (CA) Sheriff’s Department for just over 30 years. Sterett is a member of two niche groups within the first responder community: he is one of the estimated 2,750 bomb technicians who work in the United States, and he is a member of the First Responder Resource Group (FRRG).
After attending his first meeting last July, Sterett thinks the greatest advantage to being part of FRRG is staying informed of the latest developments by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T). “I am able to keep abreast on some of the latest ideas out there,” Sterett said, “[to] help prioritize those ideas and, perhaps most importantly, share the ideas with fellow techs.”
Sterett’s career began shortly after attending the University of Iowa for pre-law. Sterett took a criminology course, which lead to an internship with a police department. Once he saw what law enforcement was like, Sterett was hooked.
For the last 22 years, Sterett has worked in one of the larger bomb squads in the United States. “As a busy squad, we often don't have the time to keep up on all the technology that can be used or adapted to assist us,” Sterett continued. “The FRRG is one of the programs that appears to be looking out for us in this regard.”
The job requirements for bomb techs have changed drastically over the past 10 years. “Traditionally, bomb techs were mostly responsible for rendering safe explosives,” Sterett said. “Now, we are expected to be experts in many disciplines, to include: chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear; explosive detection canines; bomb tech divers; SWAT trained; explosive breaching; hazardous materials operators; etc.” With the evolving requirements of his profession, Sterett has also witnessed the development of better tools and technology for his trade.
“In the past, our profession had to make its own tools or try to adapt existing technology meant for other uses to suit our needs,” added Sterett. “After 9/11, things improved, and we made an initial leap in technology within the bomb community.”
That quick development after 9/11, however, did not continue.
“Things stalled for a while,” said Sterett. “Then with the partnerships with federal agencies, such as Technical Support Working Group and DHS S&T, we are now being exposed to possible technology that could help us do our jobs,” Sterett said.
In his position as an instructor and as a National Bomb Squad Commanders Advisory Board (NBSCAB) member, the exposure Sterett has with other bomb technicians has been invaluable. Sterett’s involvement and goal with FRRG is to be a voice for the bomb technician community.
“My goal is to help represent all bomb squads and bomb techs,” Sterett continued. “To get the technology they need to make their jobs safer and more efficient, while partnering with the FRRG.”
Among the DHS resources available to bomb techs, Sterett is pleased with S&T’s Response and Defeat Operations Support (REDOPS) program. “REDOPS was developed for the bomb techs in the field,” Sterett said. “It is these techs who know what they need. Too often in the past, so called experts, vendors and scientists with no experience would ‘think’ they knew what we needed. Seldom was this the case.”
Sterett explained that bomb techs are still in need of numerous types of technology like robotics, disruption tools, X-ray systems and diagnostic tools, to name a few. The challenge is for bomb techs to be able to respond to threats with limited resources like time, money, equipment, training and finding the proper quantity of quality personnel.
However, some of these challenges can be overcome with the help of DHS S&T. “Working first hand with a group truly committed to the first responder, and with REDOPS truly committed to the bomb community, will greatly assist the bomb tech in the field and those they protect,” said Sterett. “I have found them very supportive of our relatively small bomb tech community.”
“This DHS S&T program listens,” Sterett said. “I can't overstate the importance of that.”
Check back soon for additional FRRG member spotlights. For more information on how to become a member of the FRRG, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.