Missouri National Guardsmen at Shaken Fury (DOD)

Shaken Fury tests responder tech

To prepare to ensure the safety of thousands  of visitors when it hosts the World Games 2021, first responders in Birmingham and Jefferson County, Ala., are working with the Homeland Security Department to test technologies that will keep them better connected and protected.

DHS’ Science and Technology Directorate is hosting the Next Generation First Responder (NGFR) --  Birmingham Shaken Fury Operational Experimentation in August to promote first responder technology integration and support innovation and adoption of public-safety technologies. During the experiment, local first responders and federal partners will participate in a HAZMAT and search and rescue incident response resulting from an earthquake scenario that partially collapses a stadium.

The World Games 2021 is an international multisport competition involving 3,600 athletes from more than 100 countries and is expected to draw an extra 100,000 visitors to the area.

“We are trying to think outside current systems because the operations associated with the games will be on a scale [local responders are] unaccustomed to,” said Norman Speicher, S&T's technology integration lead for the effort. “They know they have to evolve and scale their situational awareness in ways they have not done before. They will have to incorporate other agencies that they haven’t done before. We are trying to show some tools that would enable that.”

The test will incorporate technologies developed by S&T and the private sector to fill nine gaps that public-safety officials identified in their response capabilities. Those gaps include body-worn or handheld sensors, a search and rescue development tool, indoor and outdoor responder location-tracking systems, mobile and enterprise common operational picture collaboration or a situational awareness platform, a video and image dissemination and analysis tool as well as deployable communications systems.

Besides the city and county, participating groups include the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, Alabama National Guard and the state Department of Transportation. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is leading the Shaken Fury tests, the most recent of which was in Memphis at the beginning of June.

The technologies that will be used include public-safety-related internet-of-things devices, unmanned aerial systems, stadium evacuation simulation tools as well as responder and incident commander situational awareness tools.

A key part to the experiment is figuring out how to integrate the new technologies with existing ones. That’s where open standards and open source solutions come in, Speicher said. The city and county need to benefit from the new technology without having to rearchitect what’s already there.

“You’re never going to have an agency that doesn’t have some amount of IT and existing systems,” he said. “We go in with a clean slate on how to architect and how to bring this new technology into an existing system in an operationally impactful way, but obviously we’ve got to do it with a very light touch in terms of any impact on their existing systems.”

One aspect of Birmingham’s test that will differ from others is that the city’s existing situational awareness platform vendor, a mobile platform called Active 911, lacked the bandwidth to participate, so the experiment will use PAR Government’s TEAM Connect instead.

N5 Sensors, a smart chemical sensor company whose research has been largely funded by S&T, was part of two previous experiments and will be used again in Alabama. It makes an eight-gas sensor that can measure the air in and around first responders to test whether any gas is above a dangerous threshold.

“Our basic approach is through the use of standards, we collect all the data from these new systems at a single point so all the sensors and all the information that’s coming in is effectively published to a single point, what we call an endpoint,” Speicher said. “Then all the situational awareness platforms can then subscribe to it and pool that data. By creating that standard endpoint, that collection of data, we’re able to very easily move the data around the enterprise.”

The test will address keeping responders protected, connected and fully aware, said Cuong Luu, S&T program manager and Birmingham Shaken Fury director. Protected means looking for new material to protect first responders from heat, cold and gunshot or stab wounds. Connected is providing connectivity via virtual-, incident- and local-area networks so that responders can communicate with one another and share information. Fully aware refers to the need to distribute the information captured to provide responders with better situational awareness.

“It’s the blending of those three areas that is at the core of the operational experiment,” Speicher added.

S&T benefits from these exercises by getting operational feedback on the technologies it is developing.

“We’re the liaison for many of … the companies that are doing R&D for us,” Speicher said. “They’re anxious for learning and getting that operational feedback so they can get it back in their developmental cycle and make adjustments.”

DHS S&T launched NGFR, one of several Apex programs, in 2015 “to look strategically at the nation’s security and address future challenges while continuing to support today’s operational needs,” according to the S&T website.

“This is the last year for the program,” Luu said. “We are bringing this to Birmingham to validate what we have done so far.”

Past tests have included a communications experiment in Boston in October 2016; a search and rescue scenario in June 2017 in Grant County, Wash.; and a HAZMAT scenario in Harris County, Texas, in December 2018.

As a result of the experiments NGFR has conducted, S&T has created the Next Generation First Responder Integration Handbook, which outlines a plug-and-play, standards-based environment in which commercial technologies can integrate with existing first responder infrastructure. Using the handbook, responder agencies can adopt technologies that will help them rapidly adapt to changing environments and evolving threats while sharing mission-critical information among participating  agencies.

“At the end of the day, we hope to give Birmingham and Jefferson County a good view of the art of the possible and enable them to better prepare and better prioritize the technology that’s going to be impactful to them in preparation for the World Games,” Speicher said.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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