First Responder Handbook Aims to Spur Integration of Next-Gen Technologies
Monday, April 16, 2018 | Comments

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate’s (S&T) Next Generation First Responder (NGFR) Apex program released a handbook aimed at ensuring the varied on-body technologies used by first responders interoperate.

NGFR released the first version of the Next Generation First Responder Integration Handbook in February and is soliciting feedback from both industry and first responders that it will incorporate into future iterations of the handbook.

The handbook uses open standards and interfaces to develop a framework for how the varied technology types used by first responders can integrate and interoperate with each other. In developing the handbook, DHS S&T focused on bringing together existing standards instead of developing new ones.

“In fact, I think many DHS activities have been bogged down by trying to develop new standards,” S&T Program Manager Norman Speicher said during a DHS S&T Tech Talk on Facebook Live. “Our approach is to reuse what’s out there. It’s going to guarantee, certainly hedge our bets at least, that we’re going to have an impact sooner if we’re not going through a new standards process.”

The handbook breaks down the basic capabilities that first responders need for their on-body systems and separates them into five modules that comprise an architecture for integrating all the technology a first responder uses.

One goal of this approach was to broadly look at the capabilities needed by all first responders instead of focusing on a specific discipline, Speicher said.

The handbook is divided into three parts: an introduction intended for audiences without a great amount of technical knowledge, engineering design guidance to help manufacturers in developing technology to assist first responders, and a technical annex that provides additional details on data architecture for modules and their interfaces.

DHS S&T has tested the handbook internally to validate that the framework works and is planning an external exercise with Harris County, Texas, to validate the framework in an operational environment. The organization also plans to perform other external tests with organizations that have different characteristics and needs from Harris County to ensure that it works for a variety of organizations and operational environments.

While the handbook will be useful to first responders, the book’s primary target is vendors to give them an idea of the first responder technology ecosystem and the technology needs of first responders, Speicher said.

“The one thing I really like about it is it kind of tells the vendor community what we want and what we need instead of the other way around,” said Chief Eddie Reyes, a first responder partner of DHS S&T.

The handbook will not be a static document and will evolve and grow as technology and first responder needs change. For example, because first responders are moving toward app- and cloud-based solutions over software and hardware, future iterations might have a stronger focus on cybersecurity.

DHS S&T has also had discussions with First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) officials and will consider the nationwide public-safety broadband network in its framework.

“This absolutely has to be a living, breathing document because of the changes to technology and the changing threats to our technologies,” Reyes said.

DHS S&T would eventually like to transition development of the handbook to an appropriate standards development organization and have it become a standard. DHS S&T is having discussions with several standards organizations, but there are no set plans for transition yet, Speicher said.

Once the feedback is received, DHS S&T will release a new version of the handbook that integrates that feedback. The deadline for providing feedback on the current handbook is April 30. Feedback can be sent to NGFR@hq.dhs.gov. Find the handbook here.

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