DHS casts wide net for future tech

DHS casts wide net for future tech

The Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) has launched a series of online and in-person discussions among the public, first responders, industry representatives, academia and government officials to shape the future of homeland security technology.

The engagement strategy, titled the National Conversation on Homeland Security Technology, will, “bring together partners as well as the public in ways we have not been able to reach before [and] will generate innovative solutions to the research and development community,” said DHS Under Secretary for Science and Technology Dr. Reginald Brothers in a statement on S&T’s new website,  http://scitech.dhs.gov.

The National Conversation hopes to address topics such as sensors, wearable technologies for responders, multi-directional situational awareness and decision-making, cybersecurity, screening and community resilience.

S&T will host five dialogs  addressing different research and development areas: responder of the future, enabling the decision maker, screening at speed, a trusted cyber future and resilient communities.  Individuals can join the discussion online by registering at http://scitech.ideascale.com/ or by attending virtual or in-person events.

“A top priority of S&T is to ensure the safety of the first responders,” Dr. Robert Griffin, Deputy Under Secretary for S&T in a blog post. “The idea is to make our responders as wired and connected as the rest of our community is becoming – even more so.”

These technologies, continued Griffin, need to be intuitive, interoperable with other technologies, provide timely information, and be wearable to be effective.

“S&T is exploring what wearable technology our responders need to help them think and move more strategically during an emergency. Firefighters can’t stop to check electronic devices for information in the midst of a raging fire,” he added.

“What kind of technology could be incorporated into the face shield of a helmet to deliver real-time actionable data to a firefighter? That’s what we’re looking for.”

In 2014 several technologies were developed to help fill capability gaps identified by first responders in the field, including:

Virtual Shooter, a robotic prototype mechanical arm that tests a wide range of firearms and ammunition, cutting down on stress injuries to testers and delivering consistent data on firearm and ammunition performance. Currently in the project’s final phase, the Virtual Shooter will be transitioned to the ICE National Armory in spring 2015.

The Radio Internet Protocol Communications Module, a low-cost, external, stand-alone, interface device, allows response agencies to easily upgrade and reconfigure their legacy base station systems for less than $500, extending the life of many older base station systems by 10 to 20 years. In July 2014, production-ready RIC-Ms were distributed for further base station testing.

In another avenue of engagement, the Innovative Partnerships for Disaster Response, part of DHS’ Firstresponder.gov, held a hackathon in which participants were challenged to complete working prototypes of technology tools to use in conjunction with disaster preparedness, response or recovery.

The winning team developed a simplified version of a digital 311/211 system that harnessed social media to collect very simple data sets during non-emergencies. Although the amount of data collected could be endless, the real purpose was to create a network of citizens who submitted reliable, relevant information.

A kind of reputation engine packaged with a system of rewards would incentivize citizens to participate and to submit reliable data, with a goal of ultimately increasing situational awareness for emergency responders.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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