Public Service Announcement

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I came across this article and thought that I’d pass it along to my fellow public safety professionals. DHS apparently is looking for new technology ideas from people who would actually have to respond to a wide variety of emergencies. I’ve changed the formatting to fit the restrictions of Blogger, but other wise I’m posting this without comment or a hint of snark.

If you have an idea that you think will help you do your job better, this is your chance to get it noticed. If you don’t get fame and fortune, at least you’ll know that your idea is helping people.

DHS solicits capability gaps from First Responders
Office of the Press Secretary
U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Science & Technology Directorate

WASHINGTON – No one knows better than the boots-on-the-ground what technologies they need to help them perform their jobs more safely, efficiently and effectively. To find out what they know, the TechSolutions program, run by the United States Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (DHS S&T), is providing a venue for first responders to directly submit capability gaps. If the program accepts an idea, a prototype is typically developed within 12 to 15 months.

Mr. Greg Price, Director of the TechSolutions program, is announcing the launch of a new TechSolutions Website as part of the DHS First Responder Technologies (R-Tech) program. This new Website, will streamline the submission process.

R-Tech, overseen by Director Jose Vazquez, is a DHS S&T program whose mission is to protect America against terrorism and disasters by providing first responder solutions for high-priority capability gaps through rapid prototyping, technical assistance, and information sharing in order to save lives and maximize preparedness.

To learn more about how TechSolutions works, we spoke with Greg Price, director of the program:

What is the TechSolutions program?

The TechSolutions program is an initiative put into place by DHS S&T that allows first responders to provide information on capability gaps directly to the Department and suggest technology solutions that currently do not exist. We typically look for ideas that can be prototyped within 12 to 15 months at a cost of a million dollars or less or is commensurate with the price of the effort.

What kind of ideas are you looking for?

We would like ideas from firefighters, law enforcement, EMS, HazMat, and other responder communities at the federal, tribal, state, and local level for solutions that will help them do their jobs faster, more efficiently and more effectively. These ideas can be as simple as the fireground compass, an idea from Solon, Ohio firefighter Steve Nash that provides orientation in a smoky building, or as complex as 3-D location devices that provide X, Y, and Z coordinates for responders within a building.

Are you looking for a complete solution to an identified gap?

A 100 percent solution is not our intended goal. If technology and the 12- to 15-month time frame we’re working with allow for a complete solution, that’s a bonus. However, as Jose Vazquez, director of the First Responder Technologies program says, “Perfect is the enemy of good.” We aim to achieve an 80 percent or better solution and let the research divisions within S&T address the more complex issues. For example, TechSolutions is prototyping a chemical detection tool that will identify 13 toxic industrial chemicals, while the DHS S&T Chem/Bio Division is working on technology that will identify a much larger array of toxic industrial chemicals, and they are looking at providing technology that will detect bio agents.

TechSolutions may not give you everything, but down the road our research and development team and the national labs with which we work closely can fill in the gaps we are unable to address.

Can anyone submit an idea?

Only first responders may submit ideas. We do not accept ideas (unsolicited proposals) from vendors, because there are other components within DHS that provide those services.

Will it help me find grants?

The site does not take grant requests, since federal and state governments provide grant funds that can be used by anyone pursuing a grant request. However, the Website provides direction for those pursuing grants and a help feature where users can pose questions and find information. They will receive direct responses to their e-mail with guidance if their questions cannot be answered in the FAQs.

What does the launch of the new Website mean for first responders?

The new site replaces a temporary site set up by DHS. Because DHS was eager to start receiving submissions, a temporary site was launched that would accept submissions by e-mail. The new site makes submitting and tracking ideas much easier, and many new features have been added.

The new site allows a first responder much more involvement with the process, giving them the opportunity to submit capability gaps and subsequently track their progress, and allows first responders to obtain information about other projects DHS is working on. The thinking on this is
that when responders come to the site, we don’t want them spending time submitting an idea that we are already working on. First responders will now be able to see the projects we are working on represented in a quad chart that they can access and glean information from. If they have a question about a project, they can submit a query directly to the TechSolutions team at DHS. If they have an idea for improving on a prototype effort we are working on, we would like to hear from them as well.

We have also implemented a workflow process that keeps a submitter informed on the developmental status of their idea at any given time. When they submit an idea, they receive an automated e-mail response indicating that it has been received. Then, throughout the process, they will receive updated information on whether or not it has been accepted.

We also added a “My Submission” section so that a responder can monitor the progress of their idea. If they have made multiple submissions, they can click and check the status of any of the projects at any given time. The temporary site gave a phone number that would allow them to call and check on a project’s status, but the new functions will allow them to view a project’s status and manage their submissions in their own section.

The full functionality of the site allows the submitter more flexibility, and really streamlines our ability to review and respond to submissions.

What level of involvement do you need from those submitting ideas?

We encourage first responders to be involved as much or as little as they like. We do not require them to be involved beyond an idea’s submission, and they are not financially or in any other way obligated. The fact that they submitted an idea that could potentially result in technology that will facilitate the jobs of their fellow responders is already a great help.

What are you planning for the future?

In keeping with DHS’s interest in providing the best service and interaction with first responders possible, we plan to improve the site based on feedback we receive from the users themselves. Anything we can do to help the responders do their jobs more safely, easily and efficiently, we want to know about it.