Emergency responder ID program progresses

Officials say standardizing credentials will help emergency response

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials hope a pilot program demonstrated today to make first responders' credentials interoperable across jurisdictions will expand nationwide.

Run by FEMA’s Office of National Capital Region Coordination (NCRC), the program encourages state and local officials and the companies that run critical infrastructures to ensure that their credentials comply with Federal Information Processing Standard 201. Officials say credentials that conform to that personal identity verification standard will give emergency responders and others quick access to secure areas after a disaster by allowing them to prove who they are.

FIPS 201 is the standard for interoperable smart identification cards that agencies are required to issue to federal employees and contractors under Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12.

Michelle Benecke, chief of staff at NCRC, said the program provides the “interoperable capability for first responders to move quickly through jurisdictions and for incident commanders to have the information they need quickly to integrate those first responders into the disaster response effort.”

Benecke said the program, begun in 2006, cost about $2 million through fiscal 2008 and is projected to cost about $1.7 million for the rest of the pilot phase, which is slated to continue through fiscal 2010. The plan is to have a national rollout of the program in 2011.

Today’s event was meant to show that the credentials are effective for uses such as relocating government personnel, issuing credentials to emergency response officials who arrive on a scene at the last minute, overseeing citizen evacuation and re-entry, and identifying officials from other jurisdictions.

“If you remember 9/11, people would show up to the Pentagon or to the [World Trade Center] and say, 'I’m here, I’m a doctor, and let me in so I can do whatever I need to do.' In many cases, there was not really any kind of process for seeing whether or not that person should be able to enter,” said Chris Willey, interim chief technology officer for Washington, D.C. His office helped stage the event in Arlington, Va., today.

“The whole vision here is that in a scene like that, now I’ve got the software tools and the hardware tools to verify you are who you say that you are and that you also have the credentials or the attributes to say, ‘Yes you’re a doctor. Yes, you’re a bomb technician. Yes, you’re a…firefighter,’” Willey said.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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