At RELIEF field experiments held in February 2013, FEMA Deputy Administrator Serino led staff from several FEMA departments, as well as DOD, US government and private sector representatives, in an exploration of how to create a team whose job would be to bridge FEMA, DOD, HHS, and other agencies with voluntary organizations and informal communities that contribute to response operations. This built on lessons from the “Innovation Team” that FEMA deployed during the response to 2012 Hurricane Sandy. These explorations had two parts: experiments around technologies that the US Government could deploy in support of informal communities, and a set of policy discussions around the identification of gaps and methods that a team might use to bridge those gaps.
The RELIEF experiments identified specific areas where DOD policy could make changes that would allow existing DOD assets to assist FEMA in disaster recovery and emergency response:
- Agreement to Deploy Communications Network. DOD and USCG have small, low-power omni-directional wave-relay networks that support their data networks in the field. FEMA and DOD could pursue an agreement to deploy these and other ICT assets to funnel bandwidth from operational terrestrial data networks deep into disaster impact zones, linking a chain of community disaster recovery centers (DRCs) and providing a bubble of communication in areas where FEMA teams are canvassing neighborhoods.
- Agreement to use DOD-controlled Cellular Spectrum for Survivor Registration and Assistance. During response operations, commercial telecommunications companies usually are trying to rebuild networks that have been severely degraded or destroyed by a disaster or accident. While these companies generally deploy cellular towers on wheels (COWs) and light trucks (COLTs), they tend to turn off cellular data services to maximize bandwidth towards voice and SMS. Because FEMA’s communications networks are generally designed to provide spot coverage to specific fixed sites while the telecommunications industry rebuilds its networks, FEMA lacks a capability to provide cellular data services over neighborhood levels to support its concept of taking the DRC to the doorstep with tablets and handhelds.
- Integration of Crowdsourced Imagery Analysis into Situational Awareness.In an experiment at RELIEF in August 2012, NGA, FEMA, and Civil Air Patrol altered the CONOPS by which CAP collects imagery immediately after a disaster. This new CONOPS requires rapid analysis of thousands of individual nadir and oblique images of damage in the first hours after an emergency. Because the USG lacks a surge capacity to perform such analysis at this tempo and scale, an unplanned experiment was improvised during RELIEF which proved the concept of using crowdsourcing to perform this work. The tool was deployed during the response to Hurricane Sandy in October-November 2012, accelerating Federal situational awareness by several days (an after-action report will be published with more accurate numbers). FEMA Deputy Director Serino discussed it further in February 2013.