Last week I ‘visited’ our National Urban Security Technology Laboratory (NUSTL) to personally commend the team on their recent designation as the DHS lab for the test and evaluation (T&E) of current and emerging technologies for emergency responders. In that virtual conversation, I both emphasized the significance of this designation—which was signed into law by President Biden in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022—and thanked the team for their steadfast commitment to ensuring responders have access to safe, cutting-edge resources and gear by ensuring new technology heading to the front lines actually will do what it says it will do.
You might be surprised that this designation is happening now, when NUSTL is entering its 13th year helping state and local agencies solve their most pressing technology needs. This doesn’t change the scope of the lab’s mission or work; NUSTL is and will always be S&T’s go-to technical resource for state and local emergency response agencies. Rather, the legislation opens new doors, including the growth of S&T’s lab footprint into the cybersecurity domain. The law’s authorization language expands NUSTL’s responsibilities to not only “conduct tests, evaluations, and assessments of current and emerging technologies,” but also to include, as appropriate, “the cybersecurity of such technologies that can connect to the internet, for emergency response providers.”
Many of the technologies that undergo T&E by NUSTL are operational tools that emergency responders are planning to purchase for their homeland security missions. The increasing cyber and ransomware attacks have only heightened the need for NUSTL to address cyber vulnerabilities as well as the operational suitability and performance of the technologies that emergency responders rely on every day.
These technologies are critical as emergency responders continue to face unprecedented challenges. Their capabilities have been pushed to the limit with the COVID-19 pandemic and a record number of wildfires, domestic terrorism, violent crime and other homeland security threats over the last couple of years.
This legislative achievement for S&T represents a historic moment for NUSTL as it solidifies the lab’s enduring role as a critical resource for the state and local response community. This year NUSTL will assess commercial, off-the-shelf body cameras with automatic activation, physiological monitoring systems and handheld chemical detectors, to name only a few. NUSTL also conducts operational field assessments of S&T-developed prototypes before they are transitioned to the commercial market. These emerging technologies include indoor mapping tools, gunshot detection systems, 3D X-ray devices and detection technology that provides responders with the ability to detect the presence of life through walls, also just to name a few.
The NDAA authorization demonstrates a bi-partisan commitment to NUSTL’s mission of serving police, fire, hazmat, emergency medical services and emergency management personnel on the front lines. It further validates the important work we do at DHS S&T to build relationships with the state and local response community and engage innovators in homeland security test and evaluation. Together, with the great work of NUSTL, we achieve our critical mission on behalf of the American people.