When a disaster strikes, it's the local government and first responders on the ground who must respond, not to mention the emergencies firefighters, emergency medical technicians and police officers respond to on a daily basis. And by their own admission, the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (DHS S&T) needs to do better job of reaching out to this community. To that end, DHS S&T is in the process of forming an integrated product team dedicated to serving the technology needs of first responders.
"We're leaving out a really important part of the homeland security enterprise and that's the first responders who are day to day out there securing the homeland with many other things that first responders do," Brad Buswell, undersecretary for science and technology at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, told a group of first responders at a recent stakeholders' conference. "So we're looking at a 13th [integrated product team], the First Responder IPT."
"The function of that group is to feed into the federal decision makers that will then apply resources--federal resources--or help to bring private sector resources to bear, help to bring commercial off the shelf products to solve problems," Buswell said.
"The concept that we're going with is to make this organization heavy in practitioners," Randy Zeller, Director of Interagency and First Responder Programs with the DHS S&T Directorate, said. "Right now, the sector coordinating council is all associations. There are ten associations that make up the group. We're going to go to them and say 'we're the government coordinating council. We'd like to set up an RDT&E working group.' We want two thirds of the membership to be practitioners. In my mind it's seven EMTs, seven law enforcement and seven fire and then ten to eleven being associations. But we don't want associations to dominate. We want practitioners actually flown in from the field on this. We're going to pay the freight. Doing these meetings is going to take some travel, so if we're bringing in the police chief from Omaha, we'll bring him or her in to the IPT with us."
Each of the critical infrastructure sectors has an emergency services coordinating council, Zeller said. "Our intention is to leverage off the fact that emergency services has a sector coordinating council and a government coordinating council we're proposing with the infrastructure protection folks to stand up a first responder research, development and test and evaluation coordinating" working group."
"We're going to stand up a small committee called the First Responder IPT coordinating council. That will be our customer," he said. On that will be a law enforcement representative, an EMT representative and the head of the U.S. Fire Administration as the fire representative.
"This will meet probably quarterly. Certainly every six months," he said. The idea will be to get out ideas on what the IPT should be working on.
In addition meetings with first responders face-to-face, officials, panelists and attendees expressed interest in using social networking to connect first responder communities of practice as well as the private sector to aid in developing technology requirements. "We have a proposal from a local Seattle IT developer to give us a software and a process that might link this group together virtually," Zeller said. This network, conceivably, could also link first responders to private technology providers in order to facilitate the process of getting from capability gap to commercialization.
First Responder Info Mall
Jose Vasquez, director of first responder technology at DHS S&T, announced the launch of www.first-responder.gov, a new Web resource that will be a repository for all the information available to first responders from across the federal government. This Web site also contains a link to the TechSolutions page where first
responders can submit a capability gap for consideration as a target of technology development.
"You can go into any mall in America, and looking at the directory and the site map you can find the store that you want. You don't ever to have stepped a foot in there, but by looking at the syntax, you know you have a syntax that is normally Womens, Mens, Childrens, Electronics, Food, Other and Accessories. Looking at the directory you can get there. Firstresponder.gov is a similar thing," Vasquez said. "You have police, fire, bomb disposal, EMS and then there is a tree that will hopefully take you to the information that you are looking for.
"The next step for this is not just collecting the static information that others have available but moving to the communities of practice. That's what we're looking to do in the next year-to grow that so it becomes more dynamic and there is an exchange of information that's happening with the first responder community amongst themselves and with state and local and federal government entities.
"It's not .dhs. It's .gov. We were able to convince the CIO that at the end of the day when you're talking first responders and the federal response available to first responders it involves a lot of different entities. It also involves Health and Human Services, it involves [the Department of Defense]. It involves many others. This effort, although we have started it within DHS and much of what you see there is us trying to get the collective DHS to have one face, Vasquez said. "We are looking to expand that with CDC and DoD and have one face for the first responders so they can go and find the information they need," he said.
IPTs are lead by the heads of the agencies concerned with the technology being developed who work with the appropriate division of the S&T directorate on the technology development and a management organization on the acquisition of the resulting technology. The Border Security IPT, for example, is headed up by the heads of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection. Acquisition is divided between DHS S&T and the directorate's management organization, and the borders and maritime division of DHS S&T is the technology provider. In some cases actual practitioners may be invited to the meetings to provide their input.
IPTs meet on a quarterly basis-more frequently in some cases. There are about 250 technologies being worked on right now.
Already the directorate has established 12 such teams to focus on technology needs serving each of the operating components of the Department of Homeland Security. But there were, by some estimates, 25 million first responders who were first to respond to fires, floods and other disasters as well as maintain public safety and health who the department wasn't engaged with as much as it could be.
"When you're talking about limited budgets, you don't want to reinvent the wheel," said Linda Vasta, Director of West Coast Operations, Interagency and First Responders Program Division, DHS S&T. "There are a phenomenal amount of resources available to us that we leverage into. The Undersecretary has the authority to leverage the work that is being done by the Department of Defense laboratories - also the Department of Energy laboratories. Within the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology we also have four laboratories," she said.
"The key here is how do we get the technology out the door, leveraging the research that has already been done," Vasta said. "To do this, what our former undersecretary did was he took the laboratory alignment that was in place and those existing Department of Energy national laboratories and he aligned them and gave them the choice to align with three of the divisions so that the work being generated by the Department of Energy national laboratories is in alignment with our divisions."