By Ben Ames
Leaders at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), formed only about a year and a half ago, are still entrenched in the slow process of nailing down what technologies and equipment are needed for specific agencies or tasks, as well as determining who gets priority.
«FEMA merged into DHS a little over 14 months ago, and I’d be lying if I told you everything was settled, and everyone knew where their chairs were,» said Marko Bourne, deputy director of the Preparedness Division in the Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). «It’s up in the air, both for us and for the companies doing business with us.»
Bourne gave his remarks May 18 at the Homeland Security Solutions Conference & Exhibition in Baltimore.
Federal officials are still trying to refine their relationship with private sector business partners, Bourne said. First they have to make a precise list of the technologies and equipment they need.
That is one function of the National Incident Management System (NIMS), which dictates how responders behave at an emergency scene. DHS planners recently extended that initiative to include the NIMS Integration Center, an education center and think tank charged with updating the plan and partnering with the DHS Science & Technology directorate.
One challenge they are trying to solve is interoperable communications.
«Congress hasn’t gotten this one right yet,» Bourne said. «The goal is not for everybody to talk to everybody else on a scene at any given time. It’s for every unit to be able to talk to the command post. In fact, we don’t want everybody to have a radio; radio discipline is very hard to enforce, even on civilian CB radios.»
Another FEMA technology challenge is for incident commanders to have better situational awareness, just as military commanders do on a battlefield. They have to know where their people are and what their physical condition is before commanders send search teams for survivors in rubble piles.
DHS planners seek answers for some of these questions in the department’s technology incubator, the Homeland Security Advanced Research Project Agency (HSARPA).
HSARPA researchers are working on ways to identify and track responders at emergency scenes; detection equipment for radiological and biological agents (through Project BioWatch); designing better turnout gear for responders to wear at emergency scenes; tools to see through smoke-filled rooms; long-range biodetection technology; interoperability standards for self-contained breathing apparatuses; and developing new incident-command software.
The DHS Science & Technology directorate is also working with the U.S. Department of Defense’s Technical Support Working Group (TSWG) and the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) to borrow — not duplicate — military solutions to these problems and then make them affordable for local first responders.
That cooperation with military technology researchers is no coincidence, said Bob Durstenfeld, director of corporate marketing at RAE Systems, a designer and manufacturer of radiation- and chemical-detection systems. He also spoke at the Homeland Security Solutions conference.
As for equipment for first responders, there is a slow trend toward convergence of military tactics and commercial solutions, particularly in the technology used for detection of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive materials, Durstenfeld said.
Currently a person must carry the contamination source to a danger zone. Eventually, technology will allow the system to build an independent network of detectors and creating pervasive detection everywhere.
These detectors would eliminate the need for «blue canaries.» Just as miners used canaries to find poisonous gasses in mine shafts, police officers who arrive first at a crash site often have to sniff the air to find the source of a poisonous leak. This technique is often deadly if the officer gets too close.
Military & Aerospace Electronics July, 2004
Author(s) : Ben Ames
By Ben Ames