August 7, 2010

No Real Solution Without Integration

Emergency Management Magazine (July/August 2010) has an article called “Life Savers” that describes how a convergence of new technologies will help protect and save first responder lives. These new technologies can track first responders’ location (“inside buildings, under rubble, and even below ground”) and monitor their vital signs and send alerts when their health is in danger.

There are numerous technologies involved in protecting our first responders and knowing where they are and that their vitals are holding up:

  • For locating them—“It will likely take some combination of pedometers, altimeters, and Doppler velocimeters…along with the kinds of inertial measurement tools used in the aerospace industry.”
  • For monitoring health—“We’ve got a heart monitor; we can measure respiration, temperature. We can measure how much work is being done, how much movement.”

The key is that none of the individual technologies alone can solve the problem of first responder safety. Instead, “All of those have to be pulled together in some form. It will have to be a cocktail solution,” according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate that is leading the effort.

Aside from the number of technologies involved in protecting first responders, there is also the need to integrate the technologies so they work flawlessly together in “extreme real world conditions,” so for example, we are not just monitoring health and location at the scene of an emergency, but also providing vital alerts to those managing the first responders. This involves the need to integrate the ability to collect inputs from multiple sensors, transmit it, interpret it, and make it readily accessible to those monitoring the scene—and this is happening all under crisis situations.

While the first responder technology “for ruggedized vital-sign sensors could begin in two years and location tracking in less than a year,” the following lessons are clear:

  • The most substantial progress to the end-user is not made from lone, isolated developments of technology and science, but rather from a convergence of multiple advances and findings that produce a greater synergistic effect. For example, it clearly takes the maturity of numerous technologies to enable the life saving first responder solution envisioned.
  • Moreover, distinct technical advances from the R&D laboratory must be integrated into a solution set that performs in the real world for the end-user; this is when product commercialization becomes practical. In the case of the first responder, equipment must function in emergency, all hazard conditions.
  • And finally, to bring the multiple technologies together into a coherent end-user solution, someone must lead and many parties must collaborate (often taking the form of a project sponsor and an integrated project team) to advance and harmonize the technologies, so that they can perform as required and work together seamlessly. In the case of the first responder technology, DHS S&T took the lead to come up with the vision and make it viable and that will save lives in the future.


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