first responder drone, forest fire

Tools for a New Age: MITRE Innovations Power First Responders

By Steve King, Ph.D. , Brian M. Dorow , Bradley Hague

Working as a first responder carries risks and demands with unique challenges. MITRE’s First Responder Innovation Program works with communities nationwide to identify, adapt, and deploy technologies and approaches to keep individuals, agencies, and communities safe.

First responders are bombarded with programs promising better safety, efficiency, staff performance, and mental health. Yet, finding and adopting the right program takes in-house expertise and financial resources most agencies lack.

MITRE's new First Responder Innovation Program brings together career first-responder community members, engineers, analysts, and researchers to support response agencies and assist their employees and volunteers. The new program taps into technologies and approaches from MITRE’s Center for Securing the Homeland (CSH) and the Department of Homeland Security to make our country safer.

“For decades, MITRE has worked with federal agencies to identify and deploy ‘fit-for-purpose’ technology that meets agencies' immediate needs,” says Yosry Barsoum, vice president and CSH director. “It’s fine to get the latest technology for a team. But if it meets only 70 percent of the mission requirements, we always ask, ‘How can we do more?’”

MITRE’s program focuses on creating and amplifying tools and investigative methods to enhance public safety; optimizing uncrewed aerial systems (UAS); conducting online investigations; and enhancing staff training, preparedness, and wellness.

MITRE has for decades worked with federal agencies to identify and deploy technology that meets their immediate needs.

Yosry Barsoum, vice president and CSH director

From Street Level to the Skies

UAS systems are a powerful new tool for emergency response, and MITRE has partnered with police, firefighters, security agencies, and institutions across the country to enable drone technology specifically tailored for the situations first responders encounter most frequently.

Making UAS programs impactful requires assessing value, validation, and training. What system meets mission needs? Will it deliver the capabilities it promises? Are operators sufficiently trained? MITRE resources can help agencies choose the best UAS and understand the training required.

For example:

  • Agencies must have confidence when purchasing drones that their selection meets all requirements and regulations. MITRE’s Drone Selector™, a web-based tool, enables agencies to enter their requirements and identify the drones that meet them and can legally operate within their state.
  • Most drone training courses are designed for recreational users. No national training standards exist for public safety. MITRE’s advanced Drone Pilot Training and Credentialing course uses real-life use cases and scenarios designed specifically for first responders.​
  • MITRE’s Persistent Overwatch Drone offers a long flight time and a sensor package capable of reliably detecting vehicles, people, and electromagnetic emanations.​ It enables resource-constrained agencies to identify criminal activity in rural areas or other locations requiring 24/7 surveillance.​
  • Hazardous materials (HAZMAT) response is an essential service targeting the handling and management of dangerous materials and waste. MITRE is developing a HAZMAT drone/equipment adaptor to enable first responders to remotely assess, evaluate, and, in some situations, mitigate incidents.​

Data Analytics to Reduce Trafficking

Innovation isn’t just about new technology, it’s also about creating new techniques using what we already have.

By most counts, human trafficking is the world’s second-most-profitable transnational crime, after illegal drug smuggling and sales. Behind that statistic is the ugly reality of human suffering—much of it by children. So, MITRE developed data analytics tools that government, law enforcement agencies, and nongovernmental organizations can deploy to thwart trafficking of humans, drugs, and weapons.

Commercially available and nontraditional data sources can be refined into visual dashboards that enable law enforcement to track illicit activities. This data can reveal patterns that inform decisions about targeted enforcement.

Let’s Go to the Replay

The best technology won’t reach its fullest potential unless the people who use it are trained and competent—both individually and as a team.

MITRE’s Squad Performance Optimization using Real-Time Sensing (SPORTS) Tracking and Playback System provides objective, quantitative information on small-unit performance during training. ​The SPORTS system enables operators to immediately replay their training runs, and our suite of advanced analytics supports evaluation of each participant and the overall team.​

The SPORTS Tracking and Playback System can help first-responder agencies select candidates, assign team members to optimal roles, and augment ongoing small-unit training.​ Developed in partnership with the Departments of Defense and Justice, SPORTS aims to foster safe and effective training, optimize performance, and ultimately help tactical teams achieve success in real-world operations.

Learning from Veterans to Promote Wellness Off the Job

Even the most well-prepared first responder can experience on-the-job stress or trauma that affects their mental health and personal relationships. Better communication can help.

With staff trained in software engineering, the behavioral sciences, creative writing, and other fields, MITRE is uniquely positioned to provide tools that support emotional health and wellness. ​

Now We’re Talking,” a storytelling pathway game focused on creating positive communications in relationships, was initially developed for veterans. Now, MITRE is creating interactive scenarios tailored to the law enforcement community. Each episode is a conversation where the participant chooses dialogue options with a virtual partner.

“The user is immersed in what’s going on, so there’s a better opportunity for them to place themselves in the situation and contextualize it," says Sara Beth Elson, who led the game’s development. “This app is a place where people can practice these extremely difficult behaviors on their own. Then, when those conflicts or tensions arise, the user will have practiced handling similar circumstances.”

At MITRE, we know our first responders work tirelessly to protect, preserve, and serve our communities. MITRE’s First Responder Innovation Program gives them the advantages they need, in the air, the lab, or the field, or in their personal lives.

Join our community of innovators, learners, knowledge-sharers, and risk takers. View our Job Openings.