First responders will test wearable computers

A dozen public safety agencies in the Charleston, S.C., metropolitan area this spring will begin testing wearable computers for use by first-response teams.

Under a $700,000 contract, 24 police, fire, emergency medical and sheriff's office workers will strap Mobile Assistant V portable computers to their waists for disaster scenario exercises during the next year.

By the middle of next month, Xybernaut Corp. of Fairfax, Va., will deliver its systems, loaded with first-response programs from Tactical Survey Group Inc. of Crestline, Calif., to the federal government group overseeing the pilot. The National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center, a research and technology limb of the National Institute of Justice's Office of Science and Technology, will then distribute the computers to the South Carolina agencies.

By March of next year, the center plans to release a report evaluating how the wearable computers and software performed. Based on the findings, the center will recommend whether to expand the technology's use beyond Charleston.

'Hopefully, we'll have lessons learned in developing this kind of response capability more effectively and efficiently over time,' said William Nettles, deputy director of the center.

He said if the pilot goes well, the center would like it to spread the use of the computers to other cities, 'but obviously that will come down to funding.'

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