Developing & Deploying Multi-Use Technologies

Detection is required at different stages of both planned events and emergency incidents. Many of the modern detection technologies and devices that have been developed are “multi-use technologies” that serve as emergency response, homeland security, medical, and/or industrial tools. Coordination is necessary because detection developers (i.e., industrial manufacturers), policy makers (e.g., intelligence, health, energy), and stakeholders (e.g., government departments, local administrations, first responders, academic community, industry) each have a vested interest in the outcome of incidents involving the use of such technologies.

Detector Development & Stumbling Blocks

When addressing the development of these detectors, the emergency response community must define: (a) what the detectors are going to be used for (i.e., detecting a specific threat, or only allowing for early warning once the threat is confirmed); (b) who will use the detectors (e.g., civilians, military personnel, lab technicians, first responders); and (c) who will develop the detectors and with which financial resources (i.e., public programs/public funding, public-private partnerships, civilian-military partnerships).

A major stumbling block for development of the technologies is that the organizations that create the standards and set the parameters for development of detection devices have antiquated testing standards in place. A good example is continuing to use the same military challenge chemicals – for example, diesel exhaust, glass cleaner, and glycol ethers – to challenge modern detector and sensor technologies. The primary issue is that more highly refined processes have been developed that would make many of those interfering agents less than effective. As a result, the abilities of the instruments to detect as well as the decisions made based on the resulting data would be flawed.

Another stumbling block is the lack of end user participation on the same standard organization. The current economy certainly plays a role in the level of participation, but it is important that the end user have input into all phases of an instrument’s manufacturing process – from the concept phase to the final production and field testing, which includes day-to-day use. Many field instruments have become nothing more than “paperweights” as a result of ineffective development that does not meet the needs of the end user.

Deployment, Applications & a Standardized Process

Once the development phase is complete, detection policies must define the guidelines for appropriate deployment of these instruments. A decision also needs to be made by the planning organizations such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its individual agencies’ – the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and others – to prioritize what critical infrastructure should be identified and monitored for the presence of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) agents (e.g., government buildings, public transportation facilities, postal sorting offices, water supplies, chemical and nuclear plants). The policy then must be applied nationwide, in order to provide consistency for each agency that will be tasked with the process of collecting data and formulating additional planning processes.

Additionally, applications for using the detectors need to be developed, including the detectors’ properties and the ways that the data should be interpreted and used during the decision-making process. More importantly, the appropriate people to make the decisions based on the information generated by the detectors also must be clearly identified.

Lastly, a standardized process would allow for the validation of the detectors, the assessment of their performance, and their adaptation. Validation refers to an official authority ensuring that privately produced detectors meet all specifications.

However, trying to adapt the current technology in detectors to meet the changing needs of the users is a critical challenge. There are many flaws in both existing technologies and the development of newer technologies. The risk to the response community is that a partial deployment of an imperfect technology could create a false sense of security. Nevertheless, the focus on CBRNE threats has led to technological advances in each of the various categories of detectors, and new technologies are constantly being developed and tested.

In conclusion, the choice between the different types of detectors is usually dictated by considerations regarding the purpose of the detector. In other words, detectors must be adaptable to meet multiple needs of the users – on the battlefield as well as on city streets.

Glen Rudner
Glen Rudner

Glen Rudner retired in 2022 as a manager of environmental operations for the Norfolk Southern (NS) Railway with environmental compliance and operations responsibilities in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Previously, he was the hazardous materials compliance officer for NS’s Alabama Division (covering Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and southwestern Tennessee). Prior to NS, he served as one of the general managers at the Security and Emergency Response Training Center in Pueblo, Colorado. He worked as a private consultant and retired as a hazardous materials response officer for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. He has nearly 42 years of experience in public safety. He spent 12 years as a career firefighter/hazardous materials specialist for the City of Alexandria Fire Department, as well as a former volunteer firefighter, emergency medical technician, and officer. As a subcontractor, he served as a consultant and assisted in developing training programs for local, state, and federal agencies. He serves as secretary for the National Fire Protection Association Technical Committee on Hazardous Materials Response. He is a member of the International Association of Fire Chiefs Hazardous Materials Committee, a member of the American Society of Testing and Materials, and a former co-chairman of the Ethanol Emergency Response Coalition. He served as a member of the FEMA NAC RESPONSE Subcommittee.



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