A U.S. Department of Homeland Security-funded laboratory in Somerset recently became the first in the nation to receive accreditation by the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation for testing emergency response information technology.
The laboratory is part of the National Incident Management System Support Center – a program established between the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Justice & Safety Center at Eastern Kentucky University.
Evaluations conducted at the laboratory aim to verify that systems conform to interoperability standards and can exchange critical messages during disasters.
According to David Barrabee, section chief for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security and member of the steering group for this initiative, standards are necessary to ensure safety among emergency responders.
“The application of NIMS standards by public safety entities promotes interoperability and compatibility…and provides these employees with a safer work environment,” said Barrabee.
To achieve accreditation status, the laboratory was required to meet general requirements for the competencies of testing and calibration laboratories, as provided in ISO/IEC 17025:2005. A laboratory’s fulfillment of these requirements means the laboratory meets both the technical competence requirements and management system requirements that are necessary for it to consistently deliver technically valid test results.
Most evaluations conducted at the laboratory today are part of the NIMS Supporting Technology Evaluation Program, which is designed is to assist responders when making purchases to ensure products conform to national standards and guidelines. Since 2005, EKU has worked in partnership with the Science Applications International Corporation, G&H International Services, FEMA and other test and evaluation divisions of DHS on the formation of this program.
Another member of the steering group, Marc Berryman of the Greater Harris County (Texas) 9-1-1 Emergency Network stressed the need for testing to ensure that diverse systems will work during an incident.
“As 9-1-1 and emergency communications continue to advance, enabling increased information sharing of all types, it is increasingly important that the equipment and communications networks relied on by emergency response organizations conform to national standards,” said Berryman.
State and local purchasing agencies may request that vendors apply for an evaluation as part of this program through the one of the following websites: www.nimsstep.org or www.fema.gov/emergency/nims.
Evaluations are conducted at no cost to vendors. The results of evaluations are made availability through the Responder Knowledge Base at www.rkb.us.
NIMS STEP is one of many emergency preparedness initiatives operating under the FEMA-EKU cooperative agreement. The Justice & Safety Center at EKU is a federally funded research, technical assistance and training center. The mission of the center is to support the efforts of public safety and security agencies by providing information and access to training, technology and best practices for the emergency response community.