Large-Size Funding from DHS
Once-tiny antiterrorism office now at the forefront of awarding rapid-prototyping contracts, such as one for firefighting ensembles with chemical/biological protection
by Stephen Barlas
On December 15, Secretary Tom Ridge announced that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was awarding an $830,000 contract to a consortium headed by North Carolina State University (NCSU) to develop and design advanced firefighting protective ensembles with chemical/biological protective features. It was the first of several such contracts the DHS will hand out over the next four or five months as part of its participation in the broad agency announcement (BAA) administered by the U.S. Department of Defense's Technical Support Working Group (TSWG, pronounced "tis-wig").
In the two and a half years since 9/11, clothing and equipment manufacturers have been slow to respond to the increased needs of first responders for a number of reasons: concern about liability, a flaccid economy, and a host of other factors. But there's no doubt that the needs are broad and deep.
In December 2002, A Needs Assessment of the U.S. Fire Service, conducted by NFPA with and for the DHS/U.S. Fire Administration, identified a number of needs related to specialized equipment, including clothing and chemical/biological agent protection. In March 2003, the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, a group based in Oklahoma City and funded by the DHS, released a draft report called "Emergency Responders' Needs, Goals and Priorities." The report listed 12 national terrorism response objectives and divided them into three groups based on priority. The first item in the top-priority group was personal protective gear.
TSWG has now leaped into that void. Since 1990, the little-known office has grown from a small, one-person, antiterrorism office to perhaps the leading federal promoter of antiterrorism technology development, with a staff of 80.Jeff David, the head of TSWG, is also deputy director of the Pentagon's Combating Terrorism Technology Support Office (CTTSO), which manages TSWG.
In fact, TSWG was the first program placed in CTTSO when it was formed in 1990. The office handles other programs as well, but these days, TSWG is probably the best known because of the federal funding it provides.
TSWG's budget in fiscal 2003 was just shy of $200 million and around $150 million to $175 million in fiscal 2004, which began October 1, 2003. The exact figure will depend on the final levels of contributions made to TSWG by the 80 federal departments and agencies that use it to administer their antiterrorism technology search-and-develop efforts. TSWG's biggest supporter, not surprisingly, is the Department of Defense, which is kicking in $100 million in fiscal 2004. Ridge's DHS is handing over $30 million, the same sum it provided in fiscal 2003, the first year the DHS participated in a BAA.
That 2003 BAA, which outlined the general categories the DHS was interested in, attracted 3,300 responses. Near the top of the priority list, according to David, was protective turnout gear. The NSCU-designed protective ensemble will have to meet both NFPA 1971, Protective Ensemble for Structural Fire Fighting, and NFPA 1994, Protective Ensembles for Chemical/Biological Terrorism Incidents.
Seven other DHS BAA contracts have been awarded since the NCSU announcement and are posted on the TSWG Web site.
Bill Haskell, senior research scientist at Battelle Natick Operations in Natick, Massachusetts, provides some relevant history. Haskell, a member of the NFPA Technical Correlating Committee for Fire and Emergency Services Protective Clothing and Equipment, was the federal co-chair of the Department of Defense /Department of Justice InterAgency Board's (IAB) Personal Protective and Operational Equipment (PPO&E) subgroup between 1999 and October 2003, when he left the Defense Department to join Battelle's advanced clothing and equipment team. He is an authority on emergency responder clothing performance criteria and individual protection technologies for operations in a chemical/biological threat-contaminated environment.
The IAB is a DHS advisory group composed of civilian first responder representatives, emergency services organizations, federal officials, technical experts, standards development organizations, and testing organizations that makes recommendations on first-responder equipment needs. NFPA is a member of the IAB.The IAB also identified protective ensembles with chem/bio protective features as a top need in a report it published two years ago. The subgroup gave the report to the Science and Technology subgroup, of which a TSWG program manager is the federal co-chair.
TSWG's efforts on behalf of civilian first responders are of recent vintage. Since its establishment in 1990, TSWG has paid for the development mostly of military-related antiterrorism equipment, some of which has found its way to civilian users. An example is an anthrax-sampling kit that is 20 times more efficient than the kit it replaced. It's also significantly cheaper and easier for a first responder to use when wearing protective gear.
The 9/11 attacks and the subsequent establishment of the DHS in March 2003 helped focus TSWG much more closely on the needs of first responders. TSWG's David says it is no accident that the first contract awarded under the TSWG/DHS 2003 BAA was for next-generation structural firefighting personal protective equipment with chemical and biological agent protection.
"That is one of the DHS's top priorities," David emphasizes.
TSWG contracts are supposed to lead to rapid prototyping, hopefully within two years of the contract grant. NCSU is scheduled to display its initial structural firefighting and chem/bio ensemble at the International Association of Fire Chiefs' Fire-Rescue Meeting in New Orleans in August. In 2005, the prototypes will be tested and evaluated by major metropolitan fire departments for functional performance and user acceptance.
No one today sells structural firefighting gear with chem/bio agent protection. A number of protective ensembles available for chem/bio terrorism incidents comply with the requirements of NFPA 1994, but those ensembles are inappropriate for use during firefighting operations. The NCSU's Center for Research on Textile Protection and Comfort has several challenges related to designing an ensemble that meets both NFPA 1994's requirements and the requirements of NFPA 1971 for structural firefighting protective clothing.
NFPA 1994 lists three classes of protection:
The materials in these ensembles aren't typically fire-resistant, so those materials aren't used in ensembles that meet the requirements of NFPA 1971. The 2003 BAA asked for turnout gear that meets NFPA 1971 requirements, is more ergonomically correct than the turnout gear currently available, provides some chem/bio protection, and is affordable.
TSWG's David explains that NFPA 1994 compliance is a goal. Not receiving certification to NFPA 1994 has, to some degree, hurt another first-responder chemical suit TSWG funded, the disposable toxic agent protective suit, or DTAPS that went on the market before NFPA 1994 was issued.
Hopefully, TSWG's challenge, to get contractors to go where no one has gone before, will result in the development of a protective ensemble that meets both NFPA 1971 and NFPA 1994 requirements.
In this Section:
|Lessons Houston ARFF learned from air-turbulence incident
Lessons Houston ARFF learned from air-turbulence incident
|The Crown Jewels of WMD Training
The Crown Jewels of WMD Training: Homeland Security centers fill in for lack of national first-responder standards
|Large-Size Funding from DHS
Large-Size Funding from DHS: Once-tiny antiterrorism office now at the forefront of awarding rapid-prototyping contracts, such as one for firefighting ensembles with chemical/biological protection.
D.C. Detour: New proposed anti-terrorism restrictions on haz-mat transportation through Washington, DC, are also being urged for consideration in NFPA 1.
|Twenty-three new Firewatch incident reports
Twenty-three new Firewatch incident reports