First responders to get more credentials

The Homeland Security Department is working on national standards for credentials for first responders, including private-sector emergency workers, but development is still in the early stages, according to congressional testimony July 19.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is establishing a working group for developing and integrating credentialing requirements and programs such as the First Responder Authentication Card and Common Credential projects, Marko Bourne, FEMA’s director of policy and planning for analysis and evaluation, told the House Homeland Security Committee’s Emergency Communications, Preparedness and Response Subcommittee.

Those programs also are being coordinated with wider government credentialing efforts through the DHS Screening Coordination Office, Bourne said.

DHS and FEMA are developing the first responder credentialing programs that include public safety, fire, police and medical responders, and private-sector emergency workers.

Private-sector workers, such as telecommunications employees, are supposed to have emergency access to disaster scenes to enable them to recover, repair and reconstitute critical communications infrastructures, said J. Michael Hickey, vice president for government affairs at Verizon Communications. He also heads the Communications Sector Coordinating Council, which is one of 17 private-sector councils involved in infrastructure protection efforts for their sectors.

Under language in the Warning, Alert and Response Network Act of 2005, disaster scene access should be provided to the greatest extent practicable. In real disaster scenes, there have been delays in allowing emergency telephone installers access to disaster scenes, and changes in the law may be needed to correct those problems, Hickey added.

DHS and FEMA are working on a national identification card system that can verify identities of responders who appear at an incident scene. They are also working to define categories of workers, such as firefighters, hazardous-materials teams and private-sector workers.

The efforts may take awhile to achieve, and meanwhile, private-sector contractors should coordinate with their local jurisdictions, Hickey said.

“While this is viewed as a long-term solution to emergency credentialing, state jurisdictions are developing localized approaches,” he said. “Business and government partners must press ahead now to achieve cross-jurisdictional, short-term solutions.”

Alice Lipowicz writes for Washington Technology, an 1105 Government Information Group publication.

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