How many of you have smiled at that old cliché "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help"?
Well, that's actually what happened for 3½ days in February in Bellevue, WA, as representatives from EMS, fire, law enforcement, emergency management and industry, along with venture capitalists and representatives of the Department of Homeland Security's Directorate of Science and Technology, convened to further assist emergency responders in meeting their missions.
The 2009 Homeland Security S&T Stakeholders Conference-West was a forum to bring all these groups together (plus vendors showcasing their latest wares) to help not just the U.S., but the international rescue and response communities serve more effectively. The conference occurred both on-scene and online, with many online attendees submitting questions for presenters and panelists and voting on top research and development needs.
The S&T Directorate has six technical divisions: Explosives; Chemical and Biological; Command, Control and Interoperability; Borders and Maritime Security; Human Factors Behavioral Sciences; and Infrastructure and Geophysical. It also operates a program called TechSolutions. TechSolutions was established to develop information, resources and technology solutions to address mission capability gaps identified by the emergency response community. The program's goal is to, within 12-15 months, field technologies that meet 80% of project operational requirements for less than $1 million. This will be achieved through rapid prototyping or identifying existing technologies.
In an effort to better serve its various constituents, including emergency responders, DHS operates a dozen Integrated Product Teams, or IPTs. These function in mission-critical areas to identify needs and promote projects and capabilities to meet them. The IPTs engage DHS "customers," acquisition partners, S&T technical division heads and end users in developing, transitioning and acquiring solutions.
Toward the end of better serving emergency providers, the DHS created a 13th IPT for first responders. In conjunction with the National Defense Industrial Association, the department began its effort by assembling a group of 20 emergency responders representing law enforcement, fire suppression, EMS, emergency management, bomb/ordnance disposal and the Citizen Corps. The International Association of EMS Chiefs (IAEMSC) sent Jim Cole of San Juan Island (WA) EMS and me to represent EMS interests.
BUILDING & DRIVING
When we gathered for orientation that Monday, none of us knew what was expected of us or how things would proceed. What transpired over the next several hours, as Story County, IA, Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald put it, was basically building a road and driving on it at the same time.
The DHS S&T folks explained this was a new direction for them, and they wanted us to tell them what we needed, rather than them dictating what they'd give us. How, they asked, can we help you help the public you serve?
The conference was kicked off by keynote speaker Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, U.S. Army, retired. Honoré led the joint task force response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He was dynamic and quotable, accusing one reporter at a press conference of being "stuck on stupid." He gave an inspiring talk on disaster preparedness, not only for emergency services and their support organizations, but for individual citizens as well.
From there panelists were introduced, the concept of the new first responder IPT was explained, and we were asked what we thought the research and development community could do to make our jobs easier.
What came forth was an interesting cross-section of ideas. Some were strategic, like having a simple interoperable communications system that really was simple, interoperable and affordable. Some were tactical, such as creating a real, working Star Trek-style tricorder for patient assessment and monitoring.