FEMA steps up first responder ID effort

The Homeland Security Department is working on national standards for credentials for first responders, including private sector emergency workers, but development is still in the early stages, according to congressional testimony given Thursday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is in the process of establishing a working group for developing and integrating credentialing requirements and programs such as the First Responder Authentication Card and Common Credential projects, Marko Bourne, FEMA's director of policy and planning for analysis and evaluation, told the House Subcommittee on Emergency Communications, Preparedness and Response.

Those programs also are being coordinated with wider government credentialing efforts through the DHS Screening Coordination Office, Bourne said.

DHS and FEMA are developing the first responder credentialing programs that include public safety, fire, police and medical responders, as well as private sector emergency workers.

Private-sector workers, such as telecommunications employees, are supposed to have emergency access to disaster scenes to enable them to recover, repair and reconstitute critical communications infrastructures, said J. Michael Hickey, vice president for government affairs for Verizon Communications Inc. He also chairs the Communications Sector Coordinating Council, which is one of 17 private sector councils involved in infrastructure protection efforts for their sectors.

Under language in the Warning, Alert and Response Network (WARN) Act of 2005, disaster scene access should be provided to the greatest extent that is "practicable." In real disaster scenes, there have been delays in allowing emergency telephone installers access to disaster scenes, and changes in law may be needed to correct those problems, Hickey added.

While DHS and FEMA are working on a national identification card system that can verify identities of responders who appear at an incident scene, that work also includes defining national categories of workers, such as firefighters, hazardous materials teams and private-sector workers.

The efforts may take a while to achieve, and in the meantime, private-sector contractors should coordinate with their local jurisdictions, Hickey recommended.

"While this is viewed as a long-term solution to emergency credentialing, state jurisdictions are developing localized approaches. Business and government partners must press ahead now to achieve cross-jurisdictional, short-term solutions," he said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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