New technologies to be fielded faster

SAN DIEGO – Hurricane Katrina revealed disconnects among federal, state and local public-safety systems necessary for responding to the disaster, the Homeland Security Department’s top science official warned in a speech here today.

“Katrina drove home the point that we are not as prepared as we had hoped,” said Charles McQueary, undersecretary of DHS’ Science and Technology Directorate. He spoke at the Technologies for Critical Incident Preparedness Conference and Exposition, which was sponsored by DHS and the Justice Department.

DHS and first responders must establish effective relationships to have seamless federal, state and local cooperation in an emergency, and great plans on paper must translate to effective response on the ground, McQueary said.

Getting new technologies to first responders will also help them better manage future disasters, McQueary said. The directorate he leads is taking steps to improve procurement and distribution processes so that qualified new technologies reach the field faster, he added.

DHS will use the Rapid Technology Application Program (RTAP) to fund, develop and deliver new technologies within six to 18 months after awarding development contracts, McQueary said. The Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency will soon release the first contract under that program.

In the RTAP program pipeline are two technologies: an advanced 3D-imaging system that can "see" first responders inside buildings so they can be evacuated in an emergency, and a heartbeat sensor and software to find concealed people, McQueary said.

DHS, which introduced a Regional Technology Integration (RTI) Initiative last year, will extend the program this year to several state and local jurisdictions, McQueary said. RTI has pilot sites in Anaheim, Calif., Cincinnati, Memphis, Tenn., and Seattle. The program brings new technologies and organizational procedures to regional, state and local jurisdictions.

In addition, the Anaheim site and DHS have begun a pilot program for regional situational awareness, McQueary said. That program will introduce, among others, technologies capable of detecting airborne hazards in and around the Anaheim Convention Center and others that could detect explosives and be used at major public events.

DHS is also working on a 1401 Technology Transfer Program, which adapts Defense Department technologies for public safety and homeland security use, McQueary said. DHS will choose one or more of five DOD technologies for a pilot distribution test.

Those technologies include a radio-communications system independent of the public communications infrastructure, a Virtual Incident Command System for training on-the-scene response leaders and an automated system for bomb disposal teams to share real-time information.

Interoperable communications and data-transfer equipment remains a stumbling block to effective disaster response, McQueary said. To overcome that, DHS is developing a standardized architecture for incident command to ensure timely and reliable sharing of mission-critical data at the scene of a disaster, he said.

The Unified Incident Command and Decision Support (UICDS) Program lets public-safety officials share video, voice and data and manage resources, McQueary said. UICDS will undergo an initial open review with key partners and end users later this year, he said.

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