Strong relationships with first responders are an investment in R&D

In recent years, our country has experienced many of the worst wildfire seasons in history, public health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, mass casualty events, and more. First responders are on the front lines leading the battle against each of these challenges, and this is in addition to all the other “everyday” community emergencies. It’s a huge responsibility, of course, and it’s expensive. That’s why the Science and Technology (S&T) Branch continues to fulfill its mission of equipping responders with state-of-the-art technologies, tools and information to enable them to do their jobs safely and effectively.

S&T doesn’t do this in a vacuum; rather, we bring together first responders from across disciplines and across the country to find out what they need and why, then focus the R&D community on affordable solutions and leverage stakeholder feedback to develop and bring them to market.

Particularly critical is S&T’s First Responder Resource Group (FRRG), representing a diversity of disciplines, roles, locations and sizes of responder agencies – coming together to share knowledge and experience in order to highlight shared capability needs and the development of solutions. The recently released Project Responder 6 (PR6) is the latest iteration of this effort: a comprehensive study of emergency response capability requirements in the face of changes in the operating environment. The results of this report will guide R&D and S&T acquisition decisions for the stakeholder community for years to come.

“The FRRG is unique in that we ask first responders to share their individual experiences, challenges and knowledge with us, so that we at S&T can determine how to provide a solution,” said Paul McDonagh, who leads the FRRG. and S&T’s First Responder Disaster. Resilience portfolio. “We are working to keep responders better connected, protected and fully aware, making our communities safer and more resilient.”

What S&T learned from FRRG members while collecting feedback for PR6 is that the boundaries between stakeholder disciplines are blurring, and the final report reflects this reality. “The traditional model of fire truck and squad car in the front yard, ambulance to ER, is less and less applicable, more and more often, as we encounter mental illness, homelessness and other social issues,” said Jay Hagen. , chief of the Bellevue (Washington) fire department. “We need to transform our capabilities to solve these problems. Our communities are going to demand that we adapt, and to stay flexible, we’ll need technologies, tools and guidance that will help us in as many missions as possible. S&T’s FRRG got us talking about what’s possible.

Dr. Carol Cunningham, State Medical Director, Ohio Department of Public Safety, EMS Division, agreed, “What is unique about the Project Responder effort is the sharing of information between disciplines, on a national scale. Certain technologies and tools associated with firefighting, such as gloves and other PPE, are also applicable to the EMS operating environment.

And while it is essential for S&T to hear directly from these stakeholders, forums like these are also important for the stakeholders themselves, who can hear from their peers about the successes and challenges in states and communities at across the United States.

“The networking we get from being connected within the FRRG gives me a wider group of colleagues to contact whenever I research different technologies or have questions about their experiences,” said Red Grasso, program director. First Responder Emerging Technologies, North Carolina Department of Information Technology. “PR6 has helped us uncover stakeholder needs without having to duplicate at the state level what is being done at the national level.”

Direct engagement with the S&T FRRG benefits national and local agencies to a degree difficult to achieve by any response agency acting alone. S&T has a long commitment to providing this support – the global Project Responder effort has studied responder technology needs for nearly two decades so far and produced six reports.

“PR6 is truly an impressive collaboration between members of the first responder community. For more than two decades, the Project Responder effort has been the foundation for guiding homeland security research to support the public safety community. Without the support of the first responder community, Project Responder would not be possible,” said Dan Cotter, Executive Director of S&T’s Office of Science and Engineering.

Feedback collected from stakeholders over the years has resulted in more than just reports. For example, through the efforts of S&T, a key technology first envisioned in Project Responder 3 (PR3, 2014) has since spurred industry-wide innovation.

“Nothing exemplifies what S&T’s FRRG is doing in the Project Responder effort better than the Structural Firefighting Glove,” said San Diego Fire Department helicopter rescuer Steve Vandewalle. “What I needed was a glove with heat protection that slips on and off easily and allows me to use a touch screen. With industry partners, the Illinois Fire Academy, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the National Fire Protection Association, we tried six versions of the glove. After we produced our glove, other glove manufacturers made improvements to stay competitive. The glove I have now is better, thanks to the collaboration that S&T has provided.

Another set of innovations resulting from the Project Responder series includes S&T POINTER’s 3D tracking technology, which addresses the need to locate responders inside a structure, a need that has been a high priority in all six Project Responder iterations. Vandewalle calls POINTER “the FRRG’s greatest success…a game changer not only in the firefighting environment, but also for law enforcement, the tactical environment for high-risk warrants, mine collapses and urban search and rescue”. Phase II of POINTER, Locating Responders in Outdoor and Crowded Environments, began in July 2022. Together with POINTER, S&T is currently developing the data upload mechanism for first responders, which displays floor plans and other building-critical data, further enhancing the security responder.

Looking to the future, FRRG members discussed with us current R&D efforts that they see as promising for their operations. “The wearable chemical sensor, which alerts responders to exposure to hazardous substances so they can don the appropriate PPE, could eventually give way to a wearable device that detects a contagious pathogen and helps in disease tracing. Cunningham offered.

Two respondents suggested that emerging virtual tools are essential. “Since fire prevention has improved so much, we now rely less on direct experience and more on simulations, lessons learned, shared platforms, video training tools and the science of decision making. “, said Hagen.

And for Rodney Reed, Deputy Chief of Operational Support for the Office of the Harris County Fire Marshal, Texas, “Virtual reality and augmented reality are valuable training tools as they provide enhanced capabilities to responders in rural areas. of America who face the same threats as responders in metropolitan areas, but have resource constraints.

The Enhanced Dynamic Geo-Social Environment (EDGE) is an example of existing S&T technology in this space that emerged from a previous Project Responder report. Already marketed, this free virtual training platform to coordinate the response to active shooter incidents, was the highest priority capability need identified in PR3. More recently, EDGE has become a tool to improve school safety and can also be used to prepare for a large number of critical incidents. As EDGE continues to be a force multiplier in the virtual training environment, S&T also continues to explore technologies to expand and customize training offerings for complex incident command and management.

Beyond Project Responder, connecting the R&D community to first responders is a vital mission for S&T. They not only help S&T chart a technology roadmap based on their current and future needs, but they also inform every step of the process, from initial design, to operational field test prototypes, to preparation for transition of technologies to the commercial market. And it is not a responsibility that FRRG members take lightly. As Vandewalle summarizes, “I believe it is our duty as FRRG to improve the state of technology for the benefit of first responders. You won’t find this kind of collaboration anywhere else.

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