March 2, 2009 By Corey McKenna
The big news of the Homeland Security Stakeholders West Conference last week was the presentation of a thirteenth integrated product team focused on serving the first responder community. With panels of first responders weighing in on technology priorities and observations of challenges, sessions included overviews and updates on some of the 12 other IPTs and how private sector contractors can do business with S&T and help bring technology solutions to market.
Last week also saw the launch of Firstresponder.gov, a one-stop-shop for information from across the federal government of interest to first responders.
There are an estimated 25 million first responders in the United States. In an effort to reach as much of that community as possible, the conference sessions were streamed live online and those not able to attend the conference could watch the sessions online and comment live on the discussions and ask questions. Recordings of the conference sessions should be available online shortly.
Discussions of interoperability, technology priorities and capability gaps and commercialization invited lively discussion. Interestingly, there was little discussion of the governance issues that lay across achieving interoperability with technology dominating most of that discussion. Dr. David Boyd, Director of the Command Control and Interoperability, did raise the governance issue, making the point that there are over 3,100 counties across the country each with different needs and laws they must adhere to. He said the individualities of counties' needs make it difficult to write detailed operational requirement documents (ORDs) which the private sector will want to develop into products.
Another topic of discussion, with much happening on it, was the need to develop a common operating picture among emergency management players. Success in this is highlighted by Virtual Alabama and similar projects, such as one in Virginia. Jose Vasquez even floated the name Virtual USA, hinting at the possibility of these efforts being linked across the country, though there are serious hurdles to that. One such issue is the need to tailor the data to the person looking at it. For example, someone with a more operational focus may want to have a different view than an elected official, for example.
Developing a culture of preparedness was another topic of much discussion at the conference. First, Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, the commander in charge of coordinating military relief efforts in the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, introduced the topic in a keynote address. This was then picked up and echoed by others during the panel discussions. A big piece of this is working "left of boom" to deter, detect, prevent and prepare for natural disasters and acts of terrorism. Honore noted that being prepared is the best mitigation strategy. He said $1 spent in preparedness can save up to $9 in recovery costs.
Progress is being made on first responder technology projects previewed at the Technologies for Critical Incident Preparedness conference in Chicago last October. Three dimensional personnel location technology has improved. Vehicle stopping technology and a thinner, lighter self-contained breathing apparatus prototype was previewed at the conference. The next step, an attendee suggested, would include better particulate filtration.
Other projects highlighted include a project which the human factors IPT is working on to train checkpoint personnel on how to spot suspicious people and tell if someone is hiding something akin to Fox's Lie to Me TV show and the detection at a distance of suspicious objects that might pass through a checkpoint at an airport or train station.
The last discussion of the conference on Thursday highlighted the need for a secure social network where first responders and potential technology providers can come together and share needs and potential solutions to first responder capability gaps.