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Technology of an Emergency Response

As we evaluate everything from dynamic threats to natural disasters, we continue to recognize that technology is needed to enhance our capabilities. The use of technology can reduce risk, increase safety, maximize response, enhance our senses and act as a force multiplier. Here is a small sample of the technology available for emergency operations.

MSA Safesite Sentry

When the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) threat became a reality in the United States, law enforcement’s role is significantly expanded. Detection, depending on the situation, definitely falls within the purview of specially trained and equipped law enforcement: SWAT, Counter-Terrorism and EOD teams working in conjunction with HazMat teams. The deployment of a specialized human resource and technology can prevent an incident from occurring or escalating when personnel are trained, equipped and decisive.

The MSA Safesite is a CBRNE network of sensors that detects: chemical warfare agents (CWA), radiation, oxygen, lower explosive limits (LEL) and designated chemicals (TIC, VOC). The Safesite is now being coupled with mil-spec. color and thermal imaging cameras. The system can be mounted to a fixed structure at perimeter locations of a critical infrastructure, such as a seaport, a chemical facility, public utilities, a special event such as the Super Bowl, or mounted on mobile platforms like a harbor/port patrol boat, or a HazMat emergency response vehicle.

The camera images and fixed ground sensors are displayed on the same screen for one person to assess. A bird’s-eye view depicts camera and sensor locations overlaid on a map and a head-on view looking through the camera can be toggled back and forth or displayed on separate screens. The camera can be slewed/moved by a variety of means (joystick, point-n-click) and to Geo-tags that are pre-entered or entered during an incident. The system is IP accessible and can be remotely operated.

FLIR’s Fido-NXT Explosives Detection

FLIR Systems Inc.’s FIDO-NXT is a one-man portable explosive trace detection system used by the military. The Fido-NXT is simple to use, prompting the user to follow visual instructions. The system can obtains samples by “swabbing” or “sniffing” an area, suspect or subject of interest that may have explosive residue/trace present. The Fido-NXT provides a rapid return, which may provide information directing an ongoing or post-incident investigation.

The NXT boots up in five minutes, requires no calibration and runs for 8 hours. It can be utilized on robots, at a perimeter or checkpoint location, by personnel on foot, or utilized for perimeter security during special events. The NXT will prove valuable when explosive detection canines are not available, or when the need to expand or multiply this capability is needed.

Radiation Shield Technologies’ Demron

When we think of personal protective equipment or ensembles (PPE), we visualize HazMat teams in a Level A “Moon Suit.” PPE provides a level of protection against chemicals and biological agents; bomb suits provide a level of protection against explosives. Until Radiation Shield developed Demron, there had been no combined operational chemical, biological or radiological PPE.

The meltdown of multiple reactors in Japan demonstrated the need for an operational level of first responder radiological protection and Demron provides that. Most reactors produce lower levels of Cesium 137, which are harmful for workers in the warm zone or briefly in the hot zone. Demron helps in certain configurations by providing some level of protection. There are more than 300 suits currently being utilized for disaster operations in Japan.

Honeywell Micro Air Vehicle (MAV)

Our reliance on manned air support when using them to gather intelligence can be risky for the aircrew or the airship due to the possibility of enemy gunfire. The Honeywell-MAV#3 (Micro Air Vehicle) is an alternative. The unmanned remotely controlled ducted-fan aircraft has been deployed by the military and has been used by the Miami-Dade Police Department, which is the only non-federal law enforcement department that has one. The MAV is not a replacement for an aircrew-airship, but a supplement.

The MAV has the capability to deploy an aerial asset into a hostile area, where it would be unsafe for an aircrew to hover and orbit at low altitudes where there would be danger of gunfire or HazMat plume. It can also be used to conduct post damage incident assessments after natural disasters, to locate subjects in a remote area or dangerous terrain, or to fly a pre-programmed course or pattern using GPS coordinates to check a perimeter fence line.

The MAV provides stable video images using daylight and IR cameras. The video images are encrypted channel changing (24x per second) preventing the media from intercepting. It is quieter and leaves less of a footprint than a helicopter because of the reduced noise and rotor wash. The MAV has an average flight duration of 40 minutes, which varies based on environmental factors and flight activity.

FLIR HD Camera

FLIR is synonymous with airborne camera systems. The recently released SAFIRE 3HD camera produces high-definition infrared, low-light and image intensified TV images with laser range finding, laser targeting illumination—and it provides up to 1,280 TV lines of resolution.

The HD capability maximized the ability to more clearly view ground targets or “laser designate” targets or areas for ground units to covertly and/or rapidly acquire. The clarity of an HD image enhances the pilot’s and the ground commander’s situational awareness, especially if the image is down-linked. The aerial dimension always plays a critical role in emergency operations.

Mobile COW and Radio Cache

The Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO), for example, uses a Cellular on Wheels (COW) unit for interagency / interoperable communications capability during special events, critical incidents and natural or man-made disasters. Radio systems are unique. The system technology and programming varies by manufacturer and agency, which prohibits most interoperability. There is no common “global” bridge allowing for the modification, programming or upgrade to establish interoperable communication during an emergency without the purchase of specific Interoperability hardware or newer equipment.

The BSO and other agencies have established a deployable COW with an added dimension. The system utilizes the communications applied technology “plug-n-play” radio-interoperability hardware (CAT-ICRI/4TG), the Motorola GTR 8000 P-25 compliant 700/800mhz repeater system, a 109’ antenna tower, and a cache of 200-Motorola XTS500 handheld radios. The system also uses a generator, making it a stand-alone communications system.

The cache of radios and the fact that every BSO deputy’s radio is pre-programmed to the “COW” is unique. The COW and the deputies we send to assist another jurisdictions have immediate communication with agencies that have 700/800mhz NPSTAC capable radios. The repeater can be utilized to expand or fill a radio system gap the agency is experiencing.

Harris Knight Hawk

The Harris Knight Hawk field-deployable, IP-based UTMS cellular network uses 3G-Android and iPhone smartphone technology with a pre-loaded SIM card. The portable “tactical network in a box” provides voice, high speed data, video, SMS-messaging and high speed packet access (HSPA) with 256 bit encryption.

The completely self-contained cellular network operates in the 2100 MHz range, providing 10 watts of output, managing 60 voice calls and 14 HSPA-data connections simultaneously. The system weighs 45lbs, requires an antenna can be deployed by one trained person. When the network is deployed into an area of operations where the communications infrastructure has been destroyed or diminished, data, video (damage assessment), messaging and cellular for emergency operations can be established.

MorphoIdent (Morpho ID) 

During an emergency response, identifying suspects or persons of interest can lead to their associates, affiliations and possibly to locations to investigate for evidence. On some cases it can even lead to a call from another agency investigating that suspect or person of interest. The MorphoIdent is an easy to operate, handheld/field deployable fingerprint identification system with an FBI certified optical scanner.

The unit can conduct continuous scans for 8 hours and can store 5,000 pre-loaded local or “most wanted” records and can scan without connectivity. The fingerprint scan is transmitted via Bluetooth, USB, wireless USB dongle to a PC, smartphone or PDA with enabled software, securely linking (HTTP/SMTP) it to your agency’s or jurisdiction’s AFIS in a Windows XP or Blackberry environment.

Encrypto Call 

Encypto Call is a cell phone application that provides 256bit encryption for enabled calling and receiving cell phones. Operational security is always a concern whether it is the media, a drug cartel or a terrorist/subversive group in a small suburban/mountain town. Daily and emergency conversations would have a level of security, if needed. Small departments could afford the software and establish a command net of encrypted communications using cell phones.


When multiple agencies arrive, whether or not communications have failed, the management of the incident can become burdensome. Additionally, not all resources on scene need to be part of every communication. Users of Collabria can select an individual or an agency designee by selecting an icon that will introduce the necessary parties into the 256 bit encrypted voice, text and data communications net.

The software is relatively inexpensive and works via landline, wireless, cellular, and/or satellite Internet connectivity. To communicate using the application, the sender and recipients of voice/data must have Collabria loaded into their laptop or desktop, no matter where it is located or how it is communicating. For emergency responses, the software can be pre-loaded into a USB jump drive and issued with a password allowing a designee to use the software to communicate.

GIS & GPS Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is not just off-the-shelf software an agency purchases and enters data into. Instead, it is data coupled with complex visual information. For GIS to produce valid-usable information, the agency must commit human resources to manage GIS, modify agency policies, train personnel, input valid data in a timely manner, purchase good hardware and software, and ensure the decision makers are educated about GIS.

The simplest attribute of GIS are layers that provide overlays on GPS (latitude and longitude) supported maps, which allow the importation and retrieval of vital information. This information can be about chemical plants, seaports, airports, fuel sites with generators, critical roadway intersections, critical infrastructure, hospitals, fire stations, communications towers and data related to each, etc.

These layers allow for the pre-planning of an emergency response (routes, access to fuel, targets that could be exploited by terrorists), the deployment of resources to specific locations, and/or evacuation zones (schools, hospitals) during a HazMat release. This information coupled with predictive (HazMat) plume or predictive weather software, such as ESRI-Arc GIS, ALOHA, will further tailor a response. Law enforcement and the threats we face will become more complex through time, so will technology. When purchasing technology, we must define our mission and determine what the technology will provide to enhance our ability to respond. Technology is complex, requires training and in most cases funding to sustain. We should not be afraid of technology, but prepared for technology. Embrace it and use it.

Lt. Darin D. Dowe is a 24-year veteran of a large southeast Florida sheriff’s office, a veteran SWAT operator, tactical WMD program coordinator, SWAT instructor in multiple disciplines and a former sniper. Dowe also has a background in Homeland Security, investigations and patrol and is a frequent contributor to

Tactical Response and

LAW and ORDER. He can be reached via e-mail at

Published in Law and Order, Jun 2011

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