Newswise — Law enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are constantly aiming to improve preparedness and response operations and the technology that supports critical incidents.

In the wee hours of October 29, 2017, more than 200 people participated in a critical incident exercise and technology assessment conducted by DHS’ Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) in partnership with the New York Police Department (NYPD), the New York Fire Department (FDNY), and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). During this exercise, the agencies tested and evaluated not only tactics, techniques and procedures, but also the efficacy of emergent relevant technologies.

“The recent school shootings in Kentucky and Texas, and October’s horrific Las Vegas shooting are painful reminders of the importance to be prepared in the event of such terrible critical incidents. This exercise could not be more relevant to our efforts to protect the safety of the American people,” said S&T Undersecretary William Bryan. “S&T has been involved in similar exercises and technology assessments since 2013.” 

First responders participate in such exercises to improve tactics, address capability gaps, and because of the need and desire to do things better. “We hope to incorporate several new tactics from lessons learned from this exercise such as training on an interagency communication channel,” said Lieutenant Arthur Mogil from NYPD. Besides evaluating technologies, “we reinforced the response of our relatively newly formed joint agency unit, the Rescue Task Force, which requires different NYPD units to work together with the FDNY to perform security and life safety operations,” said Lt. Mogil.

The exercise took place at the Grand Central Terminal in New York City, with most of the action occurring on parked trains and on track platforms, and other indoor spaces within the Terminal. Emergency medical technicians were dispatched to quickly convert ramps in front of several track platforms into triage stations. Outside, first responders set up an incident command post and an operations center to coordinate the simulated response.

Right before the exercise, each technology was on display for VIPs and observers; representatives explained how the devices and software work in preparedness and response operations for active shooter and other critical incidents.

S&T’s National Urban Security Technology Laboratory (NUSTL) had overall responsibility for technology selection, assessment, and reporting oversight.  The Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency provided technical, program and administrative support of the exercise. The exercise ended with an after-action discussion with key participants and S&T’s Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center (HSOAC).

The U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center installed 20 cameras throughout the path of the exercise and also used mobile cameras carried by videographers to cover all areas of movement.  The video live streamed to the VIP Room on a video wall in Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall. S&T installed four more cameras in the exercise path for its social media analysis tool. Later, HSOAC and S&T’s Behavioral, Economic, and Social Science Engine (BESS-E) analyzed the footage to evaluate technology performance.

“Planning for this exercise began eight months before the exercise and was not a direct response to Las Vegas,” said Bryan.

This was the eighth exercise S&T planned and coordinated to support technology demonstrations and evaluations. The other seven were held in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts in the past four years. The settings included schools, a movie theater, a synagogue, a subway station, a college, and a Major League Baseball stadium, where different scenarios played out – each with a different number of simulated shooters, explosive devices, hostage situations, presence of chemical or biological weapons, and more.

“S&T saw these exercises as a unique opportunity to try out relevant existing and emergent technologies to see what kind of an impact they have on first responders’ preparedness and response,” said Lawrence Ruth, director at NUSTL’s Test and Evaluation Division.

According to Ruth, the technology selection was based on the needs expressed by first responder agencies, and choosing relevant technologies from S&T and those offered by private industry.

“Following the event, S&T will produce an After Action Report that provides a detailed assessment of the impact the technologies have made on the efficacy of the first responders during an active shooter scenario,” said Ruth. HSOAC and S&T’s BESS-E will develop the report under NUSTL’s oversight.

 In the exercises to date, technologies were assessed to determine effectiveness for law enforcement and other responders, and how well they fit into first responder operations.

These exercises are representative of incidents such as an active shooter event and help the first responder community evaluate their preparedness and response. “S&T provides expert technical assistance to first responders for the development and execution of training and exercises, and assessment of equipment performance,” said Lt. Mogil.

“We know that having the right technology in the hands of a first responder can save critical minutes or seconds, and reduce injuries and save lives. The needs of responders and the public are at the center of every decision we make,” said Bryan.

To learn about what to do in the event of an active shooter visit:

Here are some of the technologies that were assessed during this most recent exercise:

  • Android Team Awareness Kit (ATAK):  Smartphone mapping app used for sharing video, audio, and other information that enables a common operating picture and improved situational awareness for incident commanders. Plug-in architecture allows needed functionality to be added.  (Funded and developed by DOD).
  • MOLE: Footwear-worn position tracker designed to work in buildings and other GPS-denied environments that is integrated with ATAK and Wireless Data Network. MOLE enables a common operating picture for incident commanders. (Developed by S&T and Robotic Research).
  • Wireless Data Network:  Wireless network to support audio/video that provides a wireless feed of the live video from the exercise to Command and Control Centers, VIP locations, or to any Emergency Operations Center; also provides tactical meshed network and portable radios that enable first responders to wirelessly exchange and update each other’s indoor location using ATAK. (Developed by Persistent Systems Inc.)
  • FLING Patient Tracker: Smartphone based patient tracking system in which patients are identified largely through their photos from initial triage to evacuation to treatment at hospitals, assisting both with medical treatment and locating the whereabouts of patients for their families. (Developed by Emergency Services Group International)
  • TacID Mobile: Smartphone/laptop app for comparing facial photos with face image libraries; suitable for pre-event security and real-time response – can identify suspects by scanning victims against watch lists. (Developed by Ideal Innovations Inc.)
  • NEON Personnel Tracker: 3-D personnel tracking and mapping that can operate in GPS-denied environments to enable a common operating picture for incident commanders. (Initially developed by S&T and advanced by TRX Systems)
  • Social Media Analysis Tool (DHS S&T): Monitors various social media platforms to aid in preparedness for and response to an incident so that incident commanders can monitor social messaging in real time during the exercise.
  • In addition, a Crowd Evacuation Modeling and Simulation Software (DHS S&T), which helps visualize and understand complexities of evacuating large numbers of people from venues, was exhibited at the event prior to the exercise.