First responders face a number of electronic threats, particularly GPS jamming, which can interfere with their ability to communicate and maintain situational awareness in the event of a major disaster or emergency situation.
In response, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) held a multi-agency operational exercise last week to combat electronic jamming of first responders’ radio systems.
The DHS S&T First Responder Electronic Jamming Exercise took place over five days in July 2016 at the White Sand Missile Range in New Mexico. DHS S&T hosted first responders from more than 40 federal, state and local agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, US Customs and Border Protection, and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Participating first responder teams were challenged to handle electronic warfare threats in scenarios resembling real-world emergency scenarios. During the exercise, electronic jamming disabled some of their communications to determine how they and their equipment overcome the interference.
The data collected identified the systems that were susceptible to jamming or interference, how severe the impact was on mission response, and the effectiveness of system defenses.
“Electronic jamming equipment interferes with vital communication and delays emergency response times,” said Under Secretary for S&T Dr. Reginald Brothers. “Often, this illegal jamming is used to mask illicit activities, such as drug and weapons smuggling and human trafficking. Electronic jammers pose a serious threat to our responders, their missions, our communities and our borders, and DHS S&T continues to work diligently to mitigate this threat.”
Subject matter experts from academia and the private sector also participated to add their expertise and equipment to the exercise, including drones and jammers.
Data collected from this exercise will be used to enhance anti-jamming technologies and inform policy to ensure resilient requirements for first responders’ communications systems.