(Photo by G. Anthonie Riis/Fort Knox)

National Preparedness Month 2020: The Science of Being Prepared

September is National Preparedness Month, but I find that the Scout Motto encouraging boys and girls to always “Be Prepared” are good words to live by, no matter what month it is. We’ve always lived in an uncertain world with ever-emerging threats, but being prepared is especially important these days. Just in the last few weeks, we’ve seen wildfires out West and devastating storms in the heartland and in the Gulf. And the COVID-19 pandemic has driven home the point that we must all be ready to adapt to change. To borrow some more words of wisdom, this time from our colleagues at Ready.gov, “Disasters don’t wait. Make your plan today.”

One thing that doesn’t change is the fierce determination of our nation’s public servants, our first responders, our health care workers, our researchers. And while it’s impossible to always predict what life will throw our way next, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) strives to stay at the leading edge of innovative solutions to challenging technical problems. Using this year’s National Preparedness Month weekly themes as a guide, I’d like to take the opportunity to highlight some S&T programs worthy of a merit badge for the contributions they’ve made to our nation’s preparedness.

Make a Plan

In many cases, disasters don’t come with much warning. Having a plan helps us avoid panic and spring into action sooner. Later this month, we’ll share word of a new guidebook we’re releasing that will help regions plan out low-cost sensor networks for better response to and mitigation of flood events. We’ll also share similar updates on wildland fire sensor prototypes. We’re really excited to tell you about these initiatives, so stay tuned.

In the case of explosive, biological, and chemical events, there are several ways we’re helping federal agencies, first responders, and state and local governments prepare to act swiftly. These disasters might be the work of bad actors or could also happen accidentally during a natural disaster. Either way, our Homeland Explosive Consequence and Threat modeling tool, Chemical Consequence and Threat tool, and Analysis for Coastal Operational Resiliency decontamination work will all benefit our stakeholders’ planning efforts and keep our communities, citizens, and property safer.

Build a Kit

We want our stakeholders to have tangible resources at their fingertips to enable quick response and seamless communication in the event of an emergency. S&T has developed several tools responders can immediately access, including three new, free apps. The first, QuickRoute, is a state-of-the-art navigation system that helps first responders reach an incident scene rapidly and safely. The second, Bridge 4 Public Safety, is a secure data-sharing app that enables real-time communication across teams, departments, agencies, and jurisdictions.

For the third, S&T collaborated with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on the Social Media Emergency Management Guidance Toolkit, a valuable online app that public safety and incident managers can use when preparing for, responding to, managing, and recovering from emergencies. This resource provides simple, step-by-step actions to help officials create plans that will improve their organization’s emergency social media outreach.

Prepare for Disasters

Though having the latest tech is a great way to be ready for response, having a framework for implementing and deploying the tech is a true measure of preparedness. We pride ourselves on not only building tangible “things” but also bringing experts together to share lessons learned and common experiences from the field while also building peer networks and enhancing practical skills. This happens at events like INSPIRE, an annual summit that convenes public safety practitioners and GIS professionals from around the country.

As cities around the United States increasingly turn to smart technologies for public safety and disaster response, there is a growing need to ensure these new technologies are interoperable among various departments and surrounding jurisdictions. Our Smart City Interoperability Reference Architecture provides a framework to test and integrate these technologies.

Teach Youth About Preparedness

And finally, just yesterday we announced the latest news on our First Aid for Severe Trauma (FAST) training, which offers free guidance to high school students on treating traumatic injuries and controlling bleeding until first responders and medical help arrive. We’re working with FEMA, American Red Cross, HOSA-Future Health Professionals, and the Uniformed Services University’s National Center for Disaster Medicine and Public Health to develop a training curriculum, outreach strategies, and plans to implement FAST in schools nationwide.

You can see from these examples that being prepared isn’t just for scouts. We should all do our part, and throughout the month of September—and beyond—we will continue to highlight even more ways S&T is helping our stakeholders prepare for both natural and manmade disasters. And to our friends across the country who are in the thick of various response efforts, we’re thinking of you.

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William N. Bryan assumed the role of Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary for Science and Technology (DHS) on May 30, 2017. As the science and technology advisor to the DHS Secretary, Mr. Bryan leads the research, development, innovation and testing and evaluation activities in support of DHS operational components and first responders across the nation. Prior to joining S&T, Mr. Bryan was the President of ValueBridge International’s Energy Group in Reston, Virginia.

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