The program labels its projects in nine different “Technology Readiness” levels:
- 1 to 2 – Basic Research, The lowest level of technology readiness/invention.
- 3 – Research to Prove Feasibility, Active research and development is initiated.
- 4 – Technology Development, Components are integrated to establish that they will work together.
- 5 to 6 – Technology Demonstration, Fidelity technology components are integrated with reasonably realistic supporting elements that can be tested in a simulated/relevant environment.
- 7 to 8 – Operational Test & Evaluation, Prototype near, or at, planned operational system. Technology has been proven to work in its final form.
- 9 – Deployment, Actual application of the technology in its final form.
Found through www.rkb.us, the RKB’s mission is to “provide emergency responders, purchasers, and planners with a trusted, integrated, online source of information on products, standards, certification, grants, and other equipment-related information.”
The site supplies visitors with categorized equipment under specific headings as well as filtering its database into an Authorized Equipment List (AEL) and a Standardized Equipment List (SEL). The latter being a list of commercially available products for first responders, the AEL reflects items available through select equipment purchasing grant programs.
“At the end of the day, we want to provide the first responders with the information on today’s technology … to select the best technology that’s available for them and if they’re going to use grants monies for it, we want to make sure that the things that they are buying are the things that meet the set requirements,” says Vazquez.
The RKB starts ordering its equipment under the following product categories with supplementary sub categories (not shown) within that group:
- Personal Protective Equipment
- Operational and Urban Search and Rescue equipment
- Information Technology
- Uncategorized Products
In addition to the RKB equipment lists, the SAVER program, www.rkb.us/SAVER/Saver.cfm, further assists equipment purchasers by providing objective assessments and validations on commercial equipment and systems, and provides those results along with other relevant equipment information. The program evaluates commercially available technology and reports the pros and cons of the product, explains Vazquez, commenting that it "is kind of like a Consumer Reports for first responders."
While the online form is available, submission of a capability gap can also be done face to face – by way of talking to first responders at conferences or shows. Submitted ideas are then examined by an integrated product team (IPT). In this, Grove explains, "the first responder IPT side uses the operational requirements document process." This is where specifics of the product in question are captured; aspects that need to exist when the tool/solution are developed, what it needs to do, any performance measures, etc.
John Verrico, Spokesman for the Science & Technology Directorate, explains this process further with an example. "One of the things that come out of talking to infrastructure and first responder organizations was the need to have the equivalent of a black box ... for investigators to try and help find what had transpired on a bus or train," he says. The research eventually led the team to a self-contained incident recording camera; in the event of a crime, accident, explosion, etc., the camera would store the footage and data prior and during an event.
He continues, "One of the key things is obviously if there's a bomb blast on a bus, the camera will have to survive the blast, survive a fire, or getting wet - all these kinds of things. Little by little the definition of what we needed the camera to do ... the specifics started adding up, that then defines the parameters and gives the industry something to really work on to produce the device."