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First Responder Technologies: A Year of Transition

FRG program managers at POINTER demonstration
Guest post from Greg Price, Director of First Responder Technologies for the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate’s (S&T) First Responders Group (FRG)
 
 
FRG’s First Responder Technologies (R-Tech) division is all about…you guessed it…developing cutting-edge technology for our nation’s first responders. Our mission: maximize their preparedness, enhance their efficiency and identify quick, innovative solutions to the problems that they — firefighters, paramedics, police, incident commanders, search and rescue task forces, dispatchers, bomb technicians, and all other disciplines — face every day.
 
We can’t, of course, achieve all of this in a vacuum. We work hand-in-hand with responders from across the country through our First Responder Resource Group, and they aren’t shy about telling us what they lack and what they want. R-Tech then finds the right developers (industry, academia, government agencies), evaluators (laboratories, responders and again, government partners), and finally commercial partners, to transition the technology to those in the field.
 
In 2015, R-Tech did just that — transitioned several such technologies first responders will soon get their hands on (or in) to. I am excited to share five of these with you today, as well as a sneak peek of some brand new equipment on the horizon for 2016.
 
 
 
2015 was a huge year for R-Tech’s Improved Structure Firefighting Glove, which received National Fire Protection Agency certification in May and has since been commercialized by partner Shelby Specialty Gloves. The glove is the first of its kind — a lightweight, better-fitting structure glove that is less bulky, provides greater dexterity, and is heat-resistant, water-repellant and puncture-proof.
 
“Overall this glove is a vast improvement over the comparable gloves that I have worked with. These could potentially replace the rescue/extrication/structure gloves that I carry now. No need to carry three sets of gloves.”Lieutenant Jason Smith, Montgomery County (Maryland) Fire and Rescue Service

  
R-Tech announced in August 2015 that it licensed its Radio Internet-Protocol Communications Module (RIC-M) to several industry partners, including the device’s inventor, Christine Wireless Inc. RIC-M is a groundbreaking interface device that connects base stations, consoles and other radio frequency equipment — regardless of brand — over Internet Protocol (IP) networks. It allows response agencies to easily upgrade and reconfigure legacy communications systems at a low cost, potentially extending the life of the technology for decades.
 
“One of the challenges with urban search and rescue is we have to bring our own infrastructure with us. The major advantage of having the RIC-M…what used to be found at a dispatch console is now readily available at the incident commander’s fingertips through wireless, IP technology. All the convenience of a console dispatcher is now readily available for the incident commander.” — John Freeburger, Master Firefighter, Montgomery County (Maryland) Fire and Rescue Service
 
RIC-M units are commercially available for response agencies via S&T’s licensees; S&T has already begun receiving royalties on sales, which will be used to fund new technology development for years to come.
 
 
After a series of devastating earthquakes left Nepal reeling earlier this year, R-Tech received word that one of our commercial partners, R4 Inc., deployed Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response (FINDER) to assist with international search and rescue efforts. We’re happy to say that with the help of FINDER, four men were found alive under massive amounts of rubble and debris.
 
R-Tech worked closely with the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory over the last three years to develop FINDER, which uses low-power microwave-radar technology to detect heartbeats and respiration of victims trapped in wreckage. New features were added this year based on responder feedback, and R-Tech transitioned the technology to two vendors, R4 Inc. and SpecOps Group Inc.
 
“There is no one magic tool that can find everyone. We use FINDER as one of our tools: canines, listening devices, cameras. FINDER is the only tool that can identify an unconscious, unresponsive individual just by their heartbeat. We don't have any other tool like it.” — Captain Randal Bittinger, Fairfax County (Virginia) Fire and Rescue Department

 
In spring 2015, S&T released the Lost Person Behavior mobile app, which was developed by R-Tech and dbS Productions via the Small Business Innovation Research program. Informed by more than 30 years of search and rescue data (150,000+ cases), the app is a critical resource during those precious first minutes after an individual has gone missing. Lost Person Behavior provides step-by-step search guidance, investigative questions, statistics and behavioral profiles for more than 40 scenarios — including lost hikers, children and dementia patients. It also identifies high probability areas where an individual may be found and has filters for ecoregion and terrain. The app is now available on Apple iTunes, Google Play and Amazon.com.
 
“The Vermont State Police Search and Rescue Team uses the app on virtually all of our searches. We find it a very convenient, easily accessible and comprehensive guide in helping us plan and conduct our missions. Quick access to historical data, tactical suggestions and search strategies are all very helpful — we had a search this fall for a woman with dementia and the app helped guide us to a successful outcome.” — Neil Van Dyke, Search and Rescue Coordinator, Vermont Department of Public Safety

 
More often these days, law enforcement officers are encountering stacks of plastic cards — debit cards, retail gift cards, library cards, hotel card keys, even magnetic-striped public transportation passes — during arrests of criminal couriers. R-Tech’s Electronic Recovery and Access to Data (ERAD) Prepaid Card Reader has become a vital tool for law enforcement, who can now seize these suspicious cards and funds suspected of being associated with criminal activity. The ERAD Prepaid Card Reader is a small, wireless handheld device that allows law enforcement officers in the field to quickly swipe suspicious cards, check the balance and put a temporary hold on the linked funds until a full investigation can be completed. As of November 2015, close to $2 million has been seized by state and local law enforcement agencies using the ERAD device.
 
“We’re able to identify stolen credit cards and mag strip information, and we’re able to seize cash on the side of the road that is being extorted in prepaid debit cards. If we found that somebody, through an unlawful act, purchased a large amount of closed loop gift cards from stores — we’re able to freeze that cash as well. In 2015, we started to see prepaid debit cards in conjunction with credit cards scams, as well as drug smugglers also possessing the prepaid debit cards. ERAD has been able to help us decipher each one of those crimes.” — Sgt. Ron Hain, Special Operations Unit, Kane County (Illinois) Sheriff’s Office
 
 
Now that you’ve seen a sampling of what we were able to accomplish in 2015, here’s a preview of what’s ahead — including our Burn Saver, pictured above. Click through to our photo gallery of R-Tech emerging technologies — we’ve got a lot of work to do in 2016!

For more information about R-Tech/FRG technology and R&D, contact first.responder@dhs.gov.