With new technology coming to market at a record pace, it can be difficult to know whether products are reliable, durable, and secure enough to make the nation’s emergency management professionals safer, better connected, and fully aware. The market is flooded with tools and capabilities that may be of benefit to first responders, but these tools need to be vetted for the rigorous technical, operational, and safety needs in the field.
To ease the vetting process for new technology, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), on behalf of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science & Technology Directorate (S&T) First Responders Group (FRG), created a user-friendly, streamlined approach to partner with technology developers. This partnership lets users test technology products and then actively use their feedback to drive future development. It is called the First Responder Technology Operational Field Assessment (OFA) and comes with a guide to assist users through the process.
First Responder Technology Operational Field Assessment
The OFA enables diverse organizations to assess technology products in a credible, consistent, and verifiable way. The First Responder Technology OFA User Guide, available on the DHS S&T website, guides a “technical facilitator” in how to partner with technology developers, first responders, and subject matter experts (SMEs) to evaluate a product’s applicability and usability in the intended environment and with a designated organization. Accompanying the guide are user forms and templates that can be modified to fit different technology products, scenarios, and use cases.
The OFA process is designed to gather user feedback to better understand the constraints and technology needs of first responders (the intended end users), and then use that input to drive technology development. PNNL designed the OFA process and user guide in partnership with DHS S&T FRG, first responders, and SMEs from across public and private industry and academia, and then vetted the approach via a working group of leaders in the field.
Three-Phases Drive User-Centric Approach
The resulting OFA process comprises three key phases:
- Phase 1 – Technology Profile. A technical facilitator (a designated organization overseeing the OFA) partners with a technology developer to complete a technology profile that captures a technology product’s technical and operational specifications. The profile is then translated into user-friendly information products that are validated with first responders and SMEs. This creates a baseline of information to be used throughout the OFA.
- Phase 2 – Technology Introduction & Feedback. The technical facilitator validates the technology profile with first responders and SMEs and incorporates their feedback. This prepares the team to conduct the OFA and pilot the technology product in the field.
- Phase 3 – Technology Field Demonstration. The technical facilitator and technology developer conduct the OFA and assess the technology product, ideally in multiple progressive, real-world operational settings with the intended end users.
Field-Tested With Realistic Scenarios
In February 2017, PNNL partnered with staff at the Xfinity Arena in Everett, Washington, to pilot the approach and demonstrate a communications and enhanced situational awareness technology that was part of the DHS S&T EMERGE accelerator program. Event staff used the technology (app, smartwatch, cellphone, tablet) during a hockey game at the Xfinity Arena, a 10,000-seat venue. The selected users included a command center lead, four security team leads, a law enforcement representative, and an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) technician.
During and after the event, interviews were conducted with the users on the technology product, asking how the product met their expectations, how it operated and met their needs in the live work environment, and what could be improved. Overall, the participants responded positively to the process and the technology, indicating they would be interested in the product with modifications, many of which the developer intends to incorporate into its software and product capabilities.
Feedback Drives Responder-Driven Technology Development
Overall, what differentiates OFAs from previous efforts is that it builds on a proven iterative – or “spiral” – approach that ensures mutual benefits. For example, technology developers gain early feedback to optimize their products for better market positioning and usability, whereas first responders provide feedback that drives product features to better align with their needs and requirements in the field.
This work was funded as part of the DHS S&T Responder Technology Alliance in which PNNL is partnered with DHS S&T FRG to envision first responder needs for the next 10-15 years and to accelerate the development of, and bring to market, integrated technology solutions that will significantly improve the safety and capability of first responders. In 2018, PNNL will be conducting OFAs to evaluate technology components that emerge from the project, including a patient monitoring sticker and EMS cuff currently in development to assist with continuous vital sign monitoring of patients.