Helping Responders Recognize, Report, Respond and Resolve Jamming Incidents

The Siren is a publication of the First Responders Group (FRG), Office for Interoperability and Compatibility (OIC).

When asked about the most significant piece of equipment or tool a first responder needs on a day-to-day basis, Assistant Chief of Operational Support Rodney Reed with the Fire Marshal’s Office of Harris County, Texas, answered without hesitation, “A responder’s most important tool is his or her communication device. It’s what provides the awareness we need to accomplish our mission when responding to an emergency. It is ultimately what serves as our lifeline and determines whether we make it home or not.”

First responders face a growing threat of interference caused by jamming, which can leave them without vital communications or critical situational awareness. To help combat this issue, last year, the NGFR First Responder Electronic Jamming Exercise assessed jamming vulnerabilities in responder communications systems at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. NGFR continued the effort this year with the 2017 First Responder Electronic Jamming Exercise (JamX 17), which focused on evaluating solutions to increase communications resiliency by helping responders recognize, respond to, report and resolve jamming incidents.

JamX 17 took place at the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, Idaho. There, representatives from NGFR, NUSTL and S&T’s Behavioral, Economic, and Social Science Engine (BESS-E), along with agencies such as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Marine Corps Warfighter Laboratory, joined nearly 300 participants from public safety agencies and technology developers from across the country. Of those participants, local first responders represented communities with nearly 24 million Americans.

Reed, who attended the 2016 exercise, was excited to come back to discover new basic mitigation strategies. “Last year’s exercise helped us to recognize that there is potential for intentional or unintentional interference on our devices. I believe it was an eye-opener for a lot of responders who attended,” Reed said. “This year, we get to learn about basic strategies that may help first responders out in the field while responding to an emergency. This information is invaluable.”

DHS S&T Acting Under Secretary William Bryan attended JamX 17 and was awed by the passion displayed by first responders and DHS participants. “For the first responders who are charged with protecting our communities, communications are a lifeline. Americans rely on first responders, and responders rely on their ability to communicate,” said Under Secretary Bryan during re-marks for the JamX 17 VIP event. “S&T is committed to ensuring that responders have the tools they need for consistent, uninterrupted communications– it’s mission critical.”

FRG and JamX 17 participants are working diligently to analyze the data and develop after action reports, as well as clear tools for DHS components and state and local public safety organizations. FRG is also working on an outreach and education campaign to expand the impact of the program from 24 million Americans to the entire country. For the men and women who work diligently to protect American lives, it is important that FRG strengthen the capability to mitigate and overcome this threat.