DHS Tries to Secure Innovation
A NEW CAMERA designed to withstand a bomb blast and preserve the video evidence of the crime scene is noteworthy not only for what it can do but also for how it came about: It is the first technology certified under a public-private partnership aimed at facilitating the move from innovation to commercialization.
The System Efficacy through Commercialization Utilization Relevance and Evaluation program (SECURE) is a “novel, cost-effective, and efficient” way to get companies to develop affordable and ground-breaking security solutions for first responders, explains Dr. Thomas A. Cellucci, creator of SECURE and the chief commercialization officer at the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate, which runs the program.
S&T documentation describes the program as a “win-win-win” situation for DHS, the private sector, and the taxpayer. That’s because, unlike DHS’s traditional acquisition model, SECURE provides little or no taxpayer money to the companies competing to produce a security technology or service identified by DHS as being needed to fill a critical capability gap.
In the case of the camera, the product filled the need for Blast Resistant Autonomous Video Equipment (BRAVE) that could be used in city transportation systems. The camera system, produced by Visual Defence USA, Inc., and called Secur-Eye, is built to survive a terrorist attack on a ground transportation target and provide investigators with evidence of what happened as the bomb went off.
For each project, S&T posts online a detailed list of capabilities that a SECURE-certified solution must meet, known as the operational requirement document (ORD), as well as a conservative estimate of the solution’s potential market value. This allows companies to make a business case for pursuing the SECURE certification with their own resources, says Cellucci, because S&T expects a big market to arise for SECURE-certified solutions if companies successfully execute the ORD.
To earn certification, companies must build a prototype that complies with the ORD’s specifications, using their own money and, then, have the solution independently tested and evaluated, again using their own money most of the time. If the company’s product passes the testing and evaluation phase overseen by S&T, it receives SECURE certification, or what S&T Spokesman John Verrico likens to a Good Housekeeping seal of approval.
Vicki Looney, general manager and vice president business development for Visual Defence USA, describes the SECURE certification as a simple way to market the cameras. The certification tells potential end users that the company’s solution will perform as advertised.
SECURE gives the first-responder community much needed peace of mind when purchasing new equipment and services that have met its criteria. Cellucci describes SECURE’s seal as a way to create a marketplace of vetted security technologies that first responders can purchase with confidence.
Companies also appreciate that SECURE is not a winner-take-all process. If 10 companies had passed the testing and evaluation phase during the BRAVE project, all 10 would have received SECURE certification. This approach also provides more SECURE-certified solutions to choose from.
Cellucci says that the BRAVE camera is proof that the government doesn’t have to completely underwrite a private company’s research and development to foster innovation. “And that’s what we’ve proven,” he says, although he’s careful to say that SECURE complements DHS’s acquisition process and doesn’t replace it.
That’s not to say that the government won’t kick in some funds even under the SECURE program where it makes sense. For example, the BRAVE camera’s testing required buses and trains to be blown up to test the equipment. It seemed impractical to have the company do that, given the logistical challenges and the cost, agree Cellucci and Looney. DHS enlisted the U.S. Army’s assistance in experiments that would try and destroy Visual Defence’s SecurEye camera with explosives and extreme temperatures.
SECURE, however, isn’t a perfect process yet, according to Looney. Though one of its objectives is speeding technology to market, speed is a relative term when it comes to government bureaucracy. It still took more than two years to certify SecurEye, even though the company had a working prototype within 90 days of entering the program.
Cellucci believes as the program matures, the Commercialization Office will certify products faster. He thinks some SECURE products will be in the hands of first responders in months, not years, from the time an ORD is issued to the time of its certification.
For companies who want to try their hand at making it through the process, more opportunities are coming, says Pete Ladowicz. The Commercialization Office has two new ORDs in the works, one on water purification and the other on interoperable communications.