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