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Back to Archives | Back to May 2011 Contents 

Responder Knowledge Base: An Agency’s First Response

By Leslie Bank, Content Analyst, Science Applications International Corporation, Abingdon, Maryland; and Lieutenant (Retired), Baltimore, Maryland, Police Department



ost police chiefs have more items on their to-do list than there are hours in the day. Reading police journals and publications can seem like a luxury that time never affords. Yet a chief’s job demands that one remain current on issues involving grants, training, and the latest equipment on the market.

The Responder Knowledge Base (RKB), accessible online at https://www.rkb.us, is a one-stop source of timely law enforcement information. The site is designed to assist with the decisions police administrators must make on a daily basis. To access information on responder equipment, training, standards, certifications, publications, grants, and relevant events, users need only create a free account. To date, there are more than 7,300 products featured on the site; 1,100 training opportunities; more than 300 grant opportunities; 1,800 publications; and nearly 400 web links. The RKB site is funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The site is a resource that enables police chiefs or their designees to spend less time searching the Internet for information from disparate sources and more time making educated decisions. The RKB serves as a decision support tool for many challenges that arise during a police chief’s day. This article outlines how to use the RKB to find answers to some of today’s most challenging questions.


Q. I need to purchase an armored vehicle for a tactical unit. How can I learn what is available?

A. From the RKB home page, click on the Products tab, accessing a section that lists types of equipment, including any relevant certifications or training necessary to use the equipment and potential grant funding available for purchasing the equipment.

To research an armored vehicle for a tactical unit, click on the Products tab, and enter the subject in the search engine. In early March, the search term “armored vehicles” displayed 53 hits. For the 24 vehicles listed (the remaining items are accessories and related products), the manufacturer’s contact information is available, as are product descriptions and specifications. This information is populated by the manufacturers themselves to ensure accuracy and completeness.

Some of the armored vehicles and related products were assessed by members of the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA). A related Lessons Learned Information Sharing (LLIS) article, “Hostile Situations: Increasing Protection for Emergency Medical Personnel,” is accessible through the RKB website at https://www.rkb.us/contentdetail.cfm?content_id=98907 (LLIS registration required). The article outlines the need to protect emergency personnel while they perform medical treatment in a hostile area. This provides justifying information that may be helpful to agencies when they apply for funding.

Some equipment listings on the site contain, in addition to manufacturer information, consumer reviews from responders who have used the equipment. Any responders who are currently active in their disciplines, have used the profiled equipment, and have no conflict of interest may submit their product reviews to be posted on the site. The presence of comments is indicated by a red talking head icon on a product’s page.


Q. There are so many equipment choices. How do I make the best decision?

A. When making equipment decisions, responders and purchasers should first consider equipment that is certified to a standard (if one exists for that type of equipment), specifically DHS-adopted or Inter-Agency Board–adopted standards. Other equipment information is available for both certified and non-certified products, such as Systems Assessment and Validation for Emergency Responders (SAVER) assessments; National Incident Management System (NIMS) Supporting Technology Evaluation Program assessments; and other operational assessments. Adequate training also is an important consideration. Links to available training are provided under the Other Content tab (click on the Training & Education link).

Certifications, standards, operational assessments performed, and training information associated with a product can be found on each RKB product page. To access this information, view the Knowledge Links section on the right side of the page. This information can also be found by visiting the certifications, standards, operational assessments, and training sections directly, which can be accessed through the Other Content tab.

The SAVER program, previously mentioned, has a tab at the top of the home page. This area of the RKB website contains information about assessments and validations performed on emergency response equipment. The purpose of this DHS program is to comparatively assess equipment and also validate manufacturer claims by giving first responders an opportunity to use the equipment in simulated scenarios. These results are published to assist decision makers with equipment purchases.

Take, for example, the December 2009 SAVER assessment on ballistic shields, which is available for review at https://www.rkb.us/SAVER/SaverDocs.cfm?sort=sortael&action=content&content_id=468&overview=1&quicklooks=0&knowledgelinks=0 (the assessment was conducted in December 2009, and the report was published in November 2010). The report highlights four shields from different manufacturers that were used in mock scenarios by seven Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) officers and one narcotics detective. The four mock scenarios represent real-life situations that may prompt a SWAT callout. They were execution of a search and seizure warrant; a lowlight (predawn) entry to a multistory building to execute a search and seizure warrant; an active shooter situation; and an officer down call with the suspect still at large.

The assessing officers’ comments regarding the four shields were not conclusions that could be easily drawn from the manufacturer’s website or literature. The officers noted that one of the shields exposed the user’s head while looking through the viewport. This is a characteristic that requires consideration when purchasing a shield. Other comments regarding one shield were that it was the heaviest of all the shields assessed and that the battery compartment was difficult to access. One of the shields was described as having a viewport that distorted the field of view. Another comment stated that when one of the shields was placed on the ground—an occasional circumstance for SWAT officers—the viewport was lower than practical for the position. Further, one of the shields was described as having a “blinding light”: an attractive feature, but one that cannot be discerned from the product’s listing on a web page.

This assessment report is an example of how SAVER equipment assessments and validations produce tangible results on which police administrators and purchasing officers can rely. The reports are unbiased exercises conducted by first responders, within the appropriate discipline, who are able to use their extensive knowledge to gauge the validity of manufacturer claims and the practicality of the product.

Another location where assessment reports may be found is through the Other Content tab, in the Operational Assessments category. This section encompasses all other assessments not conducted by SAVER technical agents in the SAVER format. Some of the organizations conducting additional assessments are the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center, the Southwest Research Institute, the U.S. Department of Justice, the National Institute of Justice, the NTOA, and the Michigan State Police. A number of assessment results for law enforcement equipment are available.

Also located under the tab Other Content is the Lessons Learned Information Sharing (LLIS) Documents category. This is a key source of information for police chiefs and administrators. One such important article is “Active Shooter Response Operations: Establishing an Incident Command Post,” published June 25, 2009, and accessible through www.rkb.us/contentdetail.cfm?content_id=225472&query=&overridesubtype=101 (LLIS registration required). A review of an incident debriefing can offer guidelines for the future and may save lives.

Selecting the link to an LLIS article will take visitors from the RKB site to another FEMA-sponsored website. Users will need to set a user name and a password to view the full text of documents posted on the LLIS site. When the term “active shooter” is entered into the search engine on the LLIS site, two documents are found. These documents are designed to be useful for law enforcement professionals who are considering the best practices and the policies to adopt within an organization.


Q. How do I go about purchasing the equipment?

A. At the top of the home page, click the tab titled FEMA Preparedness Grants & AEL. This section contains the current fiscal year’s funding opportunities offered by FEMA. More information is contained in the Authorized Equipment List. Click the link to the list and enter, for example, “armored vehicle” in the search engine. In early March, this search yielded seven results. Clicking on any one of the result links will provide a definition for the result.

For example, click on the term Vehicle, Specialized Mission, CBRNE. On the right of the resulting page, there is a link to Eligible FEMA Preparedness Grants. Click this link to view 11 grant programs associated with vehicles, specialized missions, and CBRNE. A grant writer not aware of the RKB site may have taken an hour of Internet research to compile the search results the RKB site can provide in a matter of minutes.

Next to the tab on the RKB home page is another tab Other Grants. As of early March, hundreds of grant opportunities are listed, with many specific to law enforcement. Grant opportunities from a variety of government entities can be located through this single source.

Another means to view available grants is the grants calendar on the RKB home page. There are two tabs on the home page calendar: Conferences and Grants. Click on the Grants option to view a list grants and their approaching deadlines for submission. Click on the Conferences tab to view days with conferences scheduled. Click on the angle brackets to maneuver to other months. Click on any shaded day to view specific scheduled events.

Discipline-specific and other first responder training can be found through the Other Content tab. Information about upcoming training for the first responder community can be found in the Training & Education category. As of early March, more than 1,000 training courses were listed, with 203 specific to law enforcement. The training opportunities are provided by a variety of sources, including police agencies, the DHS, FEMA, the Department of Justice, commercial training companies, and other sources. Some are provided free of charge. The RKB staff continually surveys the field of training opportunities to update this list.


Q. How do I stay current on other responder equipment topics and issues?

A. Another category under the Other Content tab is Web Links. As of early March, more than 100 links specific to law enforcement resources were listed.

Still another category under the Other Content tab is Publications & References, with well over 100 publications relevant to law enforcement. The RKB team consistently surveys media sources and publications on first responder topics so they can reach their target audience in a timely, convenient fashion. Some of the topics within the law enforcement search results in this subcategory are terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, investigation techniques, cyber investigations, digital investigations, an law enforcement technologies. The sources of these publications and references vary and represent both government and private industry in their origins.

NIMS Resource Types is yet another category under the Other Content tab. Resource typing is designed to enhance emergency readiness and response at all levels. The underlying principle is that major events require partnerships for an effective response. A comprehensive and integrated system for resource typing allows jurisdictions to augment their existing resources during an incident and assists jurisdictions in effectively identifying, locating, requesting, ordering, and tracking outside resources. Easy identification of these resources hastens the response to the requesting jurisdiction. The resource types currently listed are Animal Health Emergency, Emergency Medical Services Resources, Fire and Hazardous Materials Resources, Incident Management Resources, Law Enforcement and Security Resources, Public Works Resources, and Search and Rescue Resources.

Through the Law Enforcement and Security Resources link, bomb squads, aviation units, crowd control teams, dive teams, and SWAT teams are highlighted. This list, created and maintained by FEMA, provides definitions and categorizes equipment and personnel for uniformity within the law enforcement community. If an incident command is asking additional agencies to assist with a crowd control situation, for example, and requests that they send a Type III response, a standardized contingency from each agency is being requested. For more information, visit http://www.fema.gov/emergency/nims/index.shtm.


Q. What if I have a complicated response–related question that I haven’t found an answer to in the field?

A. The Ask an Expert feature is another source of information available for registered users. Subject matter experts on the RKB staff and experts accessible to the RKB staff are queried to provide experienced and knowledgeable responses to questions posed by users.

The RKB site is an integrated information portal that provides accurate, real-time information for those who would like to save time on Internet research. RKB content is added by RKB staff, product manufacturers, testing agencies, emergency response organizations, government agencies, and others. The content is screened by RKB staff for both validity and relevance to the first responder community.

What separates the RKB site from other sites and highlights its usefulness is the linking of products with training and grants. There are other resources on the site that afford users the best means to remain current on issues. Police administrators have learned the importance of benchmarking and information sharing. The RKB site is a vehicle to do both, and its value to an organization is immeasurable. ■


Leslie Bank is a subject matter expert for the Responder Knowledge Base and provides perspective on issues pertaining to law enforcement. She served with the Baltimore, Maryland, Police Department for nearly 25 years and retired at the rank of lieutenant. She presently works for Science Applications International Corporation in Abingdon, Maryland. She holds a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice from the University of Baltimore and a master of science degree in management from Johns Hopkins University.


Please cite as:

Leslie Bank, “Responder Knowledge Base: An Agency’s First Response,” The Police Chief 78 (May 2011): 56–60.

Click to view the digital edition.

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From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVIII, no. 5, May 2011. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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