Each September, the Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) joins the research and development community, intergovernmental partners and the general public in commemorating National Preparedness Month—an annual reminder of how important it is for all of us to be ready for disasters and emergencies. In short, what we prepare for today ensures we will have many tomorrows—a legacy to look back on.
Disasters like hurricanes, floods, wildfires, oil spills, even disease outbreaks or terrorist attacks, happen without warning, but we can face these challenges and mitigate impacts by being prepared. And while private citizens are encouraged to build kits and make plans for their own homes (we suggest you do too!), our attention is directed to our front line.
Here are eight ways we are helping the nation prepare:
- We are readying the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) for biohazards: S&T collaborated with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) top scientists at the Analysis for Coastal Operational Resiliency (AnCOR) Wide Area Demonstration event this spring to simulate an outdoor response to an anthrax incident and examine lab-tested response procedures in the field. The results from this partnership and training will help USCG quickly return to its mission after a biohazard incident.
- We are ensuring wildland firefighters can breathe safely: Also this spring, S&T field tested a new lifesaving technology, a Wildland Firefighter Respirator. Firefighters joined S&T at Harbison State Forest in South Carolina to test and evaluate the new respirator; an operational field assessment report will be published later this summer. We gather feedback directly from responders themselves so they will be armed and ready with the gear they need to stay safe.
- Our 24/7 Chemical Hazard Hotline is standing by: Hurricane damage to chemical plants or trucks and trains transporting toxic chemicals can endanger nearby residents. S&T’s Chemical Security Analysis Center provides a 24/7 Technical Assistance hotline (410-417-0910) that offers actionable, lifesaving information about potential chemical hazards.
- We are preparing guidance on radioactive spread via rainstorms: S&T’s National Urban Security Technology Laboratory (NUSTL) observed FEMA air modeling of a radiological attack and the environmental effects at a recent tabletop exercise led by EPA and Argonne National Laboratory. The team estimated how a rainstorm would distribute radioactivity through local stormwater systems and stormwater runoff. NUSTL will use findings from the event in guidance for decision-makers.
- We are training youth to provide first aid: On September 28, S&T will join partners like the American Red Cross for a LinkedIn Live event that will teach youth about the importance of being prepared for medical events. S&T will present to high school students about an educational program called FAST, or First Aid for Severe Trauma, so they can learn to provide first aid to stop bleeding in the critical first minutes of an emergency.
- We are ensuring our partnerships have global impacts: The International Forum to Advance First Responder Innovation (IFAFRI) is studying homeland security challenges and is developing solutions. Through IFAFRI, S&T is collaborating with Israel, Canada and Australia on joint projects, disaster response, and testbeds that will ensure first responders in each nation have tools, technology, and guidance to do their jobs efficiently and safely. As the IFAFRI Stakeholder Engagement lead, S&T hosted eight virtual showcases since 2020 and have two in-person showcases planned for 2022.
- We are meeting the challenge of keeping first responders cool: S&T recently led a Cooling Solutions Challenge to identify climate-friendly solutions to keep first responders and state and local communities cool during extreme heat conditions and power outages. This summer, a panel of experts announced the winners, who developed personal and large-space cooling solutions. S&T plans to announce a new cooling prize competition in early 2023.
- We are driving change with the CIVIC Innovation Challenge: S&T worked with the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, and more than 250 nationwide communities to develop research-centered solutions to pressing community-based needs. Through this partnership, we are enhancing community disaster resilience and helping first responders and emergency managers support communities affected by natural and human-caused disasters.
In an upcoming episode of our new Technologically Speaking podcast, you’ll hear one of our threat characterization experts say that “you have to plan to be surprised.” I firmly believe this is true; in fact, we felt so strongly about it that we selected this quote as the title of his episode, which will be released this month as part of our National Preparedness Month outreach. Follow our social media (@DHSScitech) throughout September for even more examples of how we are taking this mantra to heart and visit our colleagues at Ready.gov for ways you can do the same for your family and community.