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Snapshot: World Standards Week and the Role of DHS S&T Office of Standards

Release Date: October 17, 2017

Holding high standards is important both in everyday life and in crises. In everyday life, standards help ensure clean drinking water and high quality food and products. In crises, high standards can mean effective evacuation or decontamination procedures, as well as reliable equipment and gear for first responders and rescue workers.

A robotOctober 16-19, 2017 is World Standards Week. Launched 47 years ago, this week helps raise awareness of the importance of standardization to the global economy. As part of World Standards Week, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) Standards Executive Philip Mattson will be speaking on the response robots standards development program during the joint Services Conference of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Singapore’s national standards body (SPRING Singapore). Specifically, Mattson will discuss the use of drones in civil and commercial service, and will include members from both government and industry.

“World Standards Week is about the standardization process, the community, and how the Department of Homeland Security, in this case the Science and Technology Directorate, helps connect people to make better standards, to make better products,” said Peter Shebell, Deputy Director for Standards Policy at S&T’s Capability Development Support (CDS) Group.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a standard is “an idea or a thing used as a measure, norm, or model in comparative evaluations.”  S&T’s Office of Standards, in collaboration with DHS partners and standard-setting organizations, oversees the development and use of standards to ensure reliable, high-quality technology and effective processes.

For example, in the event of a disaster like a tornado or a bomb in a public space, standardization ensures first responders have reliable technology, such as robots, which performs exactly as the manufacturers have promised. S&T’s Office of Standards works with DHS components, program managers and other end users to identify standards and test methods that verify equipment performance. Wherever those standards and test methods do not exist, S&T facilitates their development.

“Government standards are policy documents expressed in technical language, tools for influencing industry to make its products safer, more resilient, and secure,” said Shebell. “Standards result from a cooperation between the private sector interests and the government’s role in promoting public policy interests like health, safety, environment, and security.”

S&T has coordinated with both private and governmental standard-setting organizations. By chairing technical and policy committees like the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Committee on Homeland Security Standards and serving on the ANSI Executive Standards Council and Board of Directors, the Office of Standards influences the direction of hundreds of standards each year. For many years, S&T has partnered with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) by investing in many important projects - developing standards for highly reliable robots (as requested by Congress in 2004); chemical detection technology; firefighters’ breathing masks; and effective decontamination procedures in the event of biological, chemical, or radiological terrorist attacks.

On August 22, 2017, the Office of Standards demonstrated test methods for drones at the opening ceremony of the Common Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site at the military post Camp Shelby in Mississippi. The Office of Standards funded and guided NIST, in close collaboration with users from S&T”s First Responders Group, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the bomb squad community, and other stakeholders, to develop and validate these test methods, which ASTM International then published and disseminated.

The S&T Office of Standards works with ground and aquatic platforms, and is increasing emphasis on test methods for aerial platforms. These test methods have been widely used in specially constructed robot-testing facilities across the U.S. and around the world, including Japan, South Korea and Germany.

DHS, the Department of Defense, and the bomb squad and public safety communities have procured robots worth more than $60 million, thanks to the information the robot test methods provided. These methods also form the foundation of a training kit for teaching robot operators from bomb squads and measuring their proficiency. Japan, where a multi-million dollar testing facility is being constructed, has adopted the methods to test and certify robots and to train and certify operators for the decommissioning and decontamination of the Fukushima reactor complex. Additionally, the State Department has used S&T’s training kit in Afghanistan for all robot operators from the bomb squad there. 

“Over the past decade, the S&T Office of Standards has focused on building relationships, sharing information, and educating members about the policies, process, and benefits of standardization,” said Shebell. “The next decade should build on that foundation by transforming how the DHS, acting through the Office, coordinates its standards activities by the use of data and data analytics.  Such use can facilitate decision-making processes for improving DHS mission effectiveness.”  

Last Updated: 01/12/2023
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