More than 220 participants from 13 Houston-area public safety agencies and 20 industry partners tested first responder technology integration in a December exercise at the Port of Houston. Led by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), the Next Generation First Responder (NGFR) – Harris County Operational Experimentation (OpEx) included the United States Coast Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Office of Emergency Communications.
The experiment integrated next generation first responder technology and safety agencies’ existing technology to assess their interoperability using guidance from the NGFR Integration Handbook.
“Our first responders face dangerous, evolving threats while often equipped with outdated and proprietary technologies that restrict their ability to communicate between agencies at the incident scene,” said Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary for Science and Technology William N. Bryan. The December OpEx demonstrated how DHS-developed and commercial technologies integrated with existing public safety systems using open standards during a HAZMAT scenario. The OpEx also assessed how integrated capabilities enhanced operational communications, increased operational coordination, improved responder safety and augmented situational awareness.
“This was a rare and valuable opportunity for responders from different jurisdictions to get together and go through the paces of coordinating an effective, unified response to an escalating emergency,” Mr. Bryan said. “Communities rely on first responders and first responders rely on smart interoperable technologies to help them focus on their mission without distractions. Homeland security begins with hometown security and DHS S&T is working with first responders to increase community resilience and advance first responder technology.”
The experiment scenario included an offshore simulated fuel leak from ships in the port, tested technologies that included responder and patient physiological monitoring sensors, indoor location tracking, HAZMAT sensors, smart alerting for responders and incident command, advanced data analytics, and situational awareness and collaboration dashboards.
“This is the first true field test of technologies integrated through the NGFR Integration Handbook,” said OpEx Project Director, Sridhar Kowdley. “The OpEx was intended to help improve the communications pipeline between the incident command center and boots-on-the-ground responders so information can be shared to increase awareness and affect a coordinated response.”
The NGFR – Harris County OpEx builds upon NGFR’s series of integration demonstrations that test and showcase the interoperability of technologies currently in development. These demonstrations have evolved into exercises with partner public safety agencies across the U.S. and have produced materials to aid first responders and command centers to implement new technologies that address capability gaps.
The next operational experiment is scheduled for Summer 2019.