Firefighting Tech Roundup: Bomb/Hazmat App, NIST on Bluetooth Security

Caption: Homeland Security's new smartphone application for bomb threats
Caption: Homeland Security's new smartphone application for bomb threats

DHS First Responder Smartphone 'App' Aid for Bomb Threats, Hazmat

The first moments in a response to a suspicion of a bomb threat are chaotic.  First responders have a myriad of questions, assessments, and decisions to make--all at once. Meanwhile, the scene could be changing rapidly. Is the bomb real? How large is the potential blast radius? Where will we evacuate people? Are there any critical infrastructure or special-needs population centers in the vicinity? Are any schools or hospitals nearby? What roads should be closed? Which roads should stay open for evacuees? And on and on ...

Now, first responders can get all this information in one place! The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and its public- and private-sector partners have developed the First Responder Support Tools (FiRST) Application (App).

Information sent directly to first responders' smartphones or laptop computers enable them to quickly define safe distances to cordon off around a potential bomb location, calculate rough damage and injury contours, suggest appropriate roadblocks, determine when mandatory evacuation or shelter-in-place circumstances apply, and to identify nearby areas of particular concern such as schools, hospitals, and care centers. The application also provides the geospatial information regarding potential injury, glass, or structural damage impact area.

The FiRST App was developed in partnership with the DHS National Protection and Programs Directorate's Office of Infrastructure Protection, along with its Office for Bombing Prevention and Applied Research Associates, Inc.

Christine Lee, FiRST program manager in S&T's First Responders Group, explains: "Bomb threat scenarios do not reflect a one-size-fits-all approach, and this App allows users to customize information to help them make informed decisions for response."

Hazmat response information on more than 3,000 hazardous materials based on the Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG) is also included in the App. In addition to providing health precautions and response guidance, FiRST also retrieves current and forecast weather to show downwind protection zones for more than 600 materials that are inhalation hazards.

The FiRST App uses services readily available with current smartphones: e-mail, phone, Google Maps, Google Search, and weather and road network data. The App uses hardware with which responders are already familiar so they do have to navigate a complex interface during the chaotic segment of an incident. Sergeant Thomas Sharkey, the District of Columbia Metro Transit police bomb squad commander, notes that first responders do not have to carry hard-copy blast standoff guidance cards, rulers, or maps.

Some additional features of the App include the following:

  • Once a first responder enters a general definition and location of the bomb or hazmat incident, the results are instantaneous.
  • Responders can run a roadblock analysis to identify which roads are best suited for closure to isolate a bomb threat within a specific region.
  • Google Search features are available to identify and display locations where increased numbers of the public may be at potential risk.
  • Responders are able to label a map with critical information and share the map with other responders. Results, which include a text summary, a map image, and GIS file attachments viewable in applications like Google Earth or WebEOC, can be e-mailed to colleagues.

FiRST App is available to first responders for a nominal fee (about $12 for mobile devices and $100 for Window PC version). Specifically defined DHS bomb standoff data are considered sensitive and are automatically made available to those who register the App with a ".gov," " .mil," or ".us" e-mail address. Users without these e-mail addresses can be approved for access on a case-by-case basis in coordination with the Office of Bomb Protection. (However, any user can input into the App and define his own custom bomb and standoff distances, which might be applicable to certain jurisdictions or localities.) It is available for iPhones and iPads, Androids, and Windows personal computers and can be purchased on iTunes, the Google Play, and ARA's e-commerce Web site.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, bomb squad, police, EMT, firefighter, and hazmat units conducted field evaluations of FiRST last year. United States Secret Service personnel observed the evaluations as well. Additional information on this technology is available at First Responder Web site.

Rutherford County, TN, implements 'Visual Fire On-Demand' Software 

In April, Rutherford County (TN) Fire Rescue Department (RCFRD) began implementing the Visual Fire On-Demand solution, a Web-deployable / Software as a Service (SaaS) version of Emergency Technologies Inc.'s Visual Fire software. Its suite of modules includes Fire Incident Reporting, Mobile Field Reporting, Equipment Inventory, Personnel, Schedule Viewer, Master Indices, Audit Viewer, Assignment Manager, Training and Certification records, Hydrant information, and Structural Preplans, among others. These modules will enable RCFRD to streamline its processes and increase agency efficiency.

"The hosted solution," explains Kyle Breischaft, president and chief executive officer of ETI, "helps small- and medium-size agencies to purchase and maintain a system for its fire records without the overhead costs of hardware infrastructure and staffing an IT department."

The RCFRD serves a population of more than 250,000 and has 11 volunteer fire / rescue stations that cover a territory of more than 626 square miles.

ETI is headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Its software solutions enable fire departments to automate many of their operations, including submitting required incident reports to state and federal authorities. The company designs, develops, markets, supports, and implements highly configurable National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) 5.0-compliant Fire Records Management Systems (Fire RMS), NEMSIS Gold compliant Emergency Medical Services Patient Reporting systems (e-PCR), and Field Based Reporting systems that are tightly integrated with multiple computer-aided dispatch vendors. Additional information is available at www.EmergencyTechnologies.com and  Visual Fire On-Demand.

NIST Updates Guide for Bluetooth Security

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has revised its 2008 recommendations for safeguarding security for Bluetooth technologies users. Special Publication (SP) 800-121, Guide to Bluetooth Security: Recommendations of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST SP 800-121) is available at http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/PubsSPs.html.

Bluetooth, an open standard for short-range radio frequency communication, is used primarily to establish wireless personal area networks. It has been integrated into many types of business and consumer devices. NIST SP 800-121 contains guidelines for effectively securing the security capabilities of Bluetooth technologies. The Bluetooth versions addressed in this publication include 1.1; 1.2; 2.0 + Enhanced Data Rate (EDR); 2.1 + EDR; 3.0 + High Speed (HS); and 4.0, which includes low energy technology.

Among NIST's recommendations for helping to ensure Bluetooth security are the following:

  • Use the strongest Bluetooth security mode available. The modes vary according to the Bluetooth specification version supported by the device. Security Mode 3 is the strongest mode for Bluetooth Basic Rate, EDR, and HS because it requires that authentication and encryption be established before the Bluetooth physical link is completely established.
  • Include Bluetooth technology in security policies, and change Bluetooth devices' default settings to reflect the policies. Include in the policy a list of approved uses for Bluetooth, a list of the types of information that may be transferred over Bluetooth networks, and requirements for selecting and using Bluetooth personal identification numbers where applicable.
  • Make Bluetooth users aware of their security responsibilities. In addition to precautions against device theft, users should also ensure that Bluetooth devices are turned off when they are not needed and minimize exposure to malicious activities and pair with other Bluetooth devices as seldom as possible--ideally, in a physically secure area where attackers cannot observe passkey entry and eavesdrop on Bluetooth pairing-related communications.

GelTech's FireIce Protects New Mexico Reservation from Wildfire

Fire managers at the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) report that FireIce fire suppressant and Single Engine Airtanker (SEATS) pilots helped to protect the Jicarilla Apache Nation Indian Reservation near Dulce, New Mexico, from a wildfire raging in the state.

Established in 1824, BIA is the oldest bureau of the United States Department of the Interior. It serves approximately 1.9 million American Indians and Alaskan natives and manages 55 million acres the United States holds in trust for this group.

Additional information about GelTech and FireIce is available at http://www.geltechsolutions.com. A FireIce Aerial Firefighting video is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q41Z7jTRh-M&feature=player_embedded

Mary Jane Dittmar is senior associate editor of Fire Engineering and conference manager of FDIC. Before joining the magazine in January 1991, she served as editor of a trade magazine in the health/nutrition market and held various positions in the educational and medical advertising fields. She has a bachelor's degree in English/journalism and a master's degree in communication arts.

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