FEMA releases guideline for first responder ID cards

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has released guidance for credentialing first responders that doesn’t mandate a federal technical standard for identification cards. Instead, the agency is asking state and local agencies to voluntarily follow the rules.

In a 25-page draft of the National Incident Management System Guideline for the Credentialing of Personnel, FEMA encourages state and local governments to voluntarily adopt interoperable identification credentials. It posted the document online Dec. 23.

“The guideline describes specific authority and best practices for managing interstate disasters and integrates the credentialing process within the Incident Command System,” the document states. The guideline covers police, fire and medical response agencies; mutual aid; and private emergency workers who restore power, water and other services.

However, FEMA did not recommend the adoption of a federal technical standard for employee identification cards, such as Federal Information Processing Standard 201.

“FEMA punted,” said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting. “It shows a lack of federal leadership on information security and [information technology] security.”

In recent years, other Homeland Security Department agencies have addressed first responder credentialing. For example, FEMA’s Office of National Capital Region Coordination launched several pilot projects for a FIPS 201-based first responder credential in cooperation with Arlington County, Va., and other communities.

The Smart Card Alliance industry group has promoted the use of FIPS 201 as a nationwide standard for first responder identification. However, state and local officials have objected to a federally mandated credentialing system unless it comes with financial support to cover implementation costs.

FEMA began working on the national guideline for first responder credentials more than a year ago. In the draft document, FEMA states that its guideline is voluntary but that adopting it will strengthen agencies’ eligibility for federal emergency preparedness grants.

The document offers advice on registration and enrollment, eligibility and risk assessments, issuance, verification and use, expiration and revocation, and redress and waiver.

In a separate notice dated Dec. 22, FEMA said it would accept public comments on the guideline until Jan. 21, 2009.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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