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Success for Federal Credentialing

THE FEDERAL government recently ran a drill to test how government IDs that meet Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 201, including first-responder authentication credentials (FRAC), can help during an emergency.

The exercise was called Winter Blast and was organized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), its Office of National Capital Region Coordination (NCRC), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). It simulated mass casualty high school explosions in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.

One aspect of the test gauged how well card readers handled the credentials in controlling access to an emergency site. When a person entered the site perimeter, he or she would swipe the card on a handheld reader that employed technology provided by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based CoreStreet Ltd. The technology validated 100 percent of the FRAC cards as well as various other types of non-FRAC identification such as driver’s licenses.

In addition to verifying first responders on hand, the demonstration also tested the government’s ability to find on a geospatial map individuals whose cards had already been scanned by the reader as they accessed the site. The technology that made this possible was provided by iMapData Inc. of McLean, Virginia.

In addition to serving as an ID, the FRAC card (which uses smart card technology), holds information on each person’s qualifications and skills. That information was scanned to iMapData’s data center; iMapData then provided spatial visibility and detailed reports to authorized users via its Web interface.

What iMapData does is generate reports that allow central command or other locations to visually identify not only which individuals have entered and exited a location but also what skill sets are available at each site at any given time, according to Ed Frankenberg, iMapData’s vice president of business development.

The technology also identifies critical infrastructure nearby. That information allows emergency operation centers to make strategic decisions based on assets available on a scene.

NCRC Director Christopher T. Geldart says Winter Blast also demonstrated that there could be interoperable credentials between the health, first responder, and law enforcement communities. However, he points out that FEMA cannot mandate that state and local mutual aid, private sector, and volunteer organizations use the federal standards. Instead, Geldart says, NCRC meets with representatives to help responder communities develop their standards and possibly identify a baseline standard that can be used interoperably across all of the organizations.

“This is a real outreach, work-together team environment and not a directive command-and-control environment, because that’s not what we live in this country,” says Geldart.

Although FEMA can’t make requirements for state and local groups, Winter Blast technical expert Craig Wilson points out that in the exercise, Pennsylvania linked its internal database for advanced registration of voluntary health professionals with the FRAC process so that those individuals would also hold FRAC cards. Geldart points out that doing so provides Pennsylvania with the ability to be interoperable with “a whole bunch of other folks at the federal level.”

It may not be possible for all states to follow suit, however. They may be at another stage in the emergency preparedness process, or they may not have the necessary funding, notes Geldart.

FEMA hopes to run another exercise in the coming months that will tie in more communities that recognize the importance of credentialing.

The exercise is part of an effort to bring together groups from outside of the federal government to figure out a way to work together.

Doing so, says Geldart, will ensure that the “next time we have a disaster, the right people get brought in at the right time. And those that just show up with good intentions can be put to work as quickly as possible.”