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Back to Archives | Back to December 2005 Contents 

Responder Knowledge Base: First Stop for
Equipment Information

By Don Hewitt, Project Manager, Terrorism Research Center, Burke, Virginia, and Joel Leson, Director, Center for Police Leadership, International Association of Chiefs of Police, Alexandria, Virgina

here do law enforcement professionals look for reliable information on equipment? Decisions involving the acquisition of equipment affect not only operational effectiveness but also the morale of officers in law enforcement agencies. Every law enforcement officer wants capable, reliable gear, especially when it comes to personal protective equipment-equipment that can mean the difference between life and death. Although there is no shortage of printed and Web-based information on equipment, and an endless parade of salespeople who want to sell the latest and greatest, the concern has always been the objectivity in expressing the practicability and value of the products. Today, there is a Web site dedicated to first responder equipment officially sponsored by the federal government that satisfies the concern.

Listening to Responders
In 2001 the Oklahoma City-based National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism was awarded a grant from the Office for Domestic Preparedness (ODP), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to study the gap between current responder equipment and what would be needed to address the new generation of threats. It was called Project Responder, and its report became a baseline for driving research and development spending. During the research process, the Project Responder team came up with a concept of creating a Web site containing information on equipment research and development. But police and fire chiefs alike said, "We don't need to know what will be available five years out. We need to know what's out there today." When the focus groups were finished, they had asked for a site that would answer six simple questions:

  • What equipment is out there?

  • Has it been tested or certified?

  • If so, what standards apply?

  • What training do I need to use it?

  • How can I get money to pay for it?

  • Can I find a peer professional who has used it?

These six questions were the genesis of the Responder Knowledge Base Web site.

Responder Knowledge
Base Mission

Based on the feedback from the focus groups, the project responder team was authorized by ODP to build a Web site with this mission:

To provide emergency responders, purchasers, and planners with a trusted, integrated, online source of information on products, standards, certifications, grants, and other equipment-related information.

Design work on the Web site began in spring 2002, and after more than 18 months of development and consultation with responders, the Responder Knowledge Base (RKB) was launched on October 31, 2003. The knowledge base was designed to provide access to information about products, standards, grants, training, publications, and other equipment-related information. The program's underlying concept is that each item, whether a product, standard, or other data element is considered a content item on the RKB. When there is a relationship between content items (such as a product that is certified to a known standard), the content items are connected with knowledge links. When any content item is viewed on the knowledge base (see figure 1), the right side of the screen shows all available knowledge links for that item. RKB users can simply click the desired links to see related items. Each time a new content item is displayed, the links are reset to reflect the current content item, providing a way for users to navigate through the site.

One of the challenges in presenting thousands of products on a Web site is how to organize them. Early in the design process, RKB developers met with representatives from the InterAgency Board for Equipment Standardization and Interoperability the IAB, ( The IAB had been producing a written list of equipment recommended for response to weapons of mass destruction incidents called the Standardized Equipment List (SEL). The SEL is considered the first list of its kind. It contained no brand-name products; it was and still is a generic list. The IAB updates the list twice yearly, and the RKB contains the only interactive version of the list. Not only is the SEL searchable online but the RKB actually links related commercial products to the SEL items so that products that address the user requirements articulated by the IAB can be located.

The RKB is also the official home of a similar list called the Authorized Equipment List (AEL). This generic list contains the items eligible for funding under the ODP Homeland Security Grant Program, which is administered through the state administrative agency (SAA) of each state or territory. The AEL has even greater breadth than the SEL, in that ODP's grant program allows for the purchase of equipment for use in the prevention of, as well as the response to, weapons of mass destruction terrorism incidents. The two lists are aligned so that the first 11 sections of the AEL correspond to the SEL.

Knowledge Links:
Following the Breadcrumbs

The RKB relies on subject matter experts, including IAB members and experts obtained through the IACP, to create links between items. The concept is that the RKB will reflect the collective expertise of these experienced professionals rather than simply rating or ranking these items by some other, arbitrary means.

Knowledge links provide a consistent way for less experienced computer users to navigate the RKB system. Reviewing the example Web page (see figure 2), the user will note that he or she can choose to investigate any of the links on the right side, such as the certified products, related AEL items, related SEL items, and so on. Clicking the desired link would take the user to another content page in the same basic format. For example, clicking on one of the products would take the user to a page describing that product.

The links on that page are displayed from the point of view of the product and, because the links go both ways, one of those links will point back to the standard. Wherever the user goes in the RKB, if there are related items, the user can easily identify them and get to them, usually with a single click. The RKB allows even a novice computer user to obtain more information in less time.

Other RKB Features
The objective of the RKB is to relate as many items as possible. In addition to the AEL, SEL, and product listings, other content areas include the following:

  • Standards

  • Certifications

  • Grants

  • Training

  • Operational suitability tests

  • Lessons learned publications from the Lessons Learned Information Sharing (LLIS) system

  • Other publications

All of these items are knowledge linked to the extent possible. In addition, the RKB offers a feedback capability on every page, as well as an ask-an-expert feature. The feedback button captures comments and corrections from RKB users. The ask-an-expert feature allows users to submit questions for research by the RKB staff and the cadre of subject matter experts.

Another resource, available only to users who are registered as professional emergency responders, is the ability to obtain offline user opinions on products. Because this is a government-sponsored site, product reviews are not posted. Instead, the site allows experienced responders to volunteer their opinions on products they have used. Responders using the site will see a special icon that allows them to send a message to the opinion giver, requesting an offline conversation.

Commercial Equipment
Direct Assistance Program

In addition to providing reference information, the RKB is playing a critical role in the new DHS Commercial Equipment Direct Assistance Program (CEDAP), a program targeted to assist small law enforcement departments. Because much of the data on equipment was already on the RKB, DHS chose to extend the RKB's mission to include the online application for CEDAP equipment. CEDAP Phase 1, which accepted applications in spring 2005, provided first responders with $8 million in equipment such as thermal imaging and night vision devices, and personal protective equipment. CEDAP Phase 2, which began on November 7, 2005, and is scheduled to last until January 13, 2006, will give away another $24 million in equipment to the winning applicants. Users should visit the RKB and select Major Programs under Search the RKB. CEDAP is at the top of the list. Departments that have the requirement for such equipment are urged to apply in second phase of CEDAP.

IACP's Role
When visiting the RKB login page, users will see a row of logos across the bottom of the page. These logos represent the organizations that have played a key role in implementing and guiding the RKB. Two logos reflect IACP's commitment and involvement in this project. On the left, the first logo is that of the InterAgency Board for Equipment Standardization and Interoperability. The IACP is represented on the IAB and is helping to bring a law enforcement perspective to a board that was originally more fire service-oriented. The second is the IACP logo, reflecting IACP's direct participation on the RKB Senior Advisory Board, and its continuing support of RKB operations. The RKB could not function without the advice and subject matter expertise provided by the IACP.

Just Getting Started
With more than 3,500 listed products, the RKB is just scratching the surface of the equipment information needed to serve the law enforcement community. Users will notice much more depth in some product categories than others. But new partnerships are being formed to link the RKB to a complete library of standards, the ODP training catalog, and other data sources. Meanwhile, the staff continues to add new items of equipment and associated products every day. The Responder Visit Program allows professional responders to visit with the RKB staff, adding expertise, user opinions, and contacts to the knowledge base. Law enforcement officials are encouraged to visit the RKB site at (, and register to obtain the services of the site. ■      

The InterAgency Board for Equipment Standardization and Interoperability

The InterAgency Board (IAB) was originally formed in 1998 by the attorney general of the United States and sponsored by the Department of Defense and Department of Justice. The mission then and today is "to establish and coordinate local, state, and federal standardization, interoperability, and responder safety to prepare for, respond to, mitigate, and recover from any incident by identifying requirements for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or explosive (CBRNE) incident response equipment." The work of the IAB focuses on identifying existing (or gaps in) technology, standards, and test results that can be used by first responders to make more knowledgeable decisions in purchasing CBRNE incident equipment.

The IAB executes its mission with a membership of 125, encompassing state, local, and federal first responders with additional members working in the areas of research, testing, and standards development. The responders provide a broad cross-section of disciplines including fire, law enforcement, SWAT, hazmat, EMS, public health, emergency managers, civil support teams, public utilities, and transportation. Each of these disciplines and the individuals who have been chosen to represent them by their communities bring a great deal of expertise and practical experience to the table.

The InterAgency Board's initial work identified commercially available hazardous materials equipment and protective ensembles that were being marketed by manufacturers and salespeople as being capable of performing in CBRNEenvironments. The IAB worked to identify whether there existed standards and independent test results available that could validate what was being presented to responders in purchasing departments. In many cases there were none and these first responder needs were prioritized and pushed upward to the Federal Agency Coordinating Committee (FACC) of the IAB.

This federal committee today consists of representatives of the Department of Defense, the DHS Office of Domestic Preparedness, the DHS Standards and Technology Directorate, the DHS Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Office of Law Enforcement Standards, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the National Personal Protective Technologies Laboratory of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

These representatives work to budget funds and identify testing facilities that could validate the sales pitches being sold to first responders. The IAB works diligently to provide a unified cross-disciplinary voice for first responders that has no allegiance other than to the emergency response community. While DHS departments provides funding to the IAB, there are several other contributing agencies and no single agency provides authority. The IAB prioritizes first responder needs in the various disciplines and sends them up to all involved federal entities to assist the user communities' efforts in better preparing for incidents. What comes down from the federal partners are requests to provide user input and direction to federal entities to assist them in our subject areas.

Early work led to the new CBRNE standards for SCBAs, air purifying respirators (APRs), and escape masks and soon for powered APRs. Recent testing of radiological instruments against newly written standards for emergency use, improved chemical ensembles, prototype CBRNE fire service bunker gear, handheld assays for field testing of biological agents, and chemical agent detector testing are among the other initiatives. All these efforts are in some way the result of recommendations from the IAB to its federal partners. These decisions are all made with the safety of end users, the local, state, and federal responders, in mind. Many purchasing agents are under strict timelines for spending federal grant money and too often it is being used to buy equipment that may not actually perform to the level touted in the marketing presentation.

The Standardized Equipment List (SEL) is produced and maintained by the IAB to provide first responders with a basic source for equipment information that should be considered when making CBRNE procurement decisions. The SEL is aligned with the first 11 categories of the Authorized Equipment List (AEL) that DHS-ODP uses as a guideline for approving grant requests. A hard copy of the IAB annual report and SEL can be requested through the Web site ( Additional information and electronic versions of both lists can be found on the Responder Knowledge Base (RKB) Web site, (, sponsored by the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism. This Web site provides links to standards, test results, certifications, products, and user comments, all extremely helpful information to the purchasing agents and field users of the first responder community. This site has received a lot of user support from the local, state, and federal members of the IAB and the first response community.

Some published accounts have suggested that the IAB is an element of the Department of Homeland Security. In fact, a few DHS offices do provide funding to the IAB, but there are several other contributing federal agencies and they participate as equal partners.

The IAB prioritizes first responder needs in the various disciplines and sends them up to all involved federal entities to assist the user communities' efforts in better preparing for incidents. What does come down from the federal partners are requests to provide user input and direction to federal entities to assist them in our subject areas. The IAB works diligently to provide a unified cross-disciplinary voice of first responders that has no allegiance other than to the emergency response community.

By Robert J. Ingram, Chair, InterAgency Board, and Chief in Charge, Hazmat Operations, Fire Department of the City of New York



From The Police Chief, vol. 72, no. 12, December 2005. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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