Urgent Matters

How should DHS spend its R&D dollars? Take this opportunity to let them know

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As part of its Visionary Goals initiative, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has established an online collaboration community at http://scitech.ideascale.com, where anyone can submit ideas about a variety of things—from big-picture notions about what should be done to criteria that must be met to technical/political/legal challenges that need to be considered.

“This is a really cool technology, but I can’t use it because …”

It has to be one of the most disheartening phrases to hear for innovators, developers, manufacturers and vendor representatives that put tremendous amounts of time and effort—as well as their livelihoods—into creating a product.

In some cases, it’s a matter of technology evolving, so the product is unnecessary.

In the early days of the Internet, when really slow dial-up modems were the norm, my newspaper had eight-step processes to reduce the size of pictures to less than 30 KBs, so they would load on our website pages in a timely manner. After almost a year of this tedium, my managing editor and I—neither being software developers—used our spare time to try to create automated scripts that would execute as many of the eight steps as possible.

A few months later, I proudly showed my boss the progress we had made, automating five of the eight steps. My boss applauded our effort, but he almost apologetically informed me that we didn’t need to go through the eight-step process anymore, because modem speeds had improved to the point where photo sizes didn’t need to be reduced.

In a matter of moments, our little project had transformed from a “solution” to a “solution in search of a problem.”

While some such developments may be difficult to predict, they can be foreseen, if you ask the right person with expertise in the area. Even more important, asking the right people for input can provide insights into the manner in which something would be used—or not.

With this in mind, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has embarked on a Visionary Goals initiative that is designed to get input from anyone—first responders, critical-infrastructure personnel, technologists, citizens, etc.—to provide insights about what issues the department should try to address with future research-and-development (R&D) projects, according to Bob Griffin, acting deputy undersecretary for the DHS science & technology (S&T) directorate.

To get this input, DHS has established an online collaboration community at http://scitech.ideascale.com, where anyone can submit ideas about a variety of things—from big-picture notions about what should be done to criteria that must be met to technical/political/legal challenges that need to be considered.

DHS has proposed four broad goals (listen to Griffin’s description of them in this podcast), but Griffin insists that they should not be considered limiting factors; in fact, one of the purposes of the collaboration community is “to find out what we may have missed” when creating the four proposed goals.

In recent years, DHS S&T has developed numerous technologies designed for first responders, including technology to help locate firefighters inside of buildings, clothing material that can provide battery power, and software applications like FiRST. With the right input from the Visionary Goals initiative, DHS officials hope to build on these successes with new developments that are most relevant to public safety andhomeland security.

On numerous occasions, I’ve spoken with sources about a product or policy and heard them say, “I wish someone had asked me about this while they were developing it, because I would have told them to include (fill in the blank), which would have made it a lot better.” In this case, DHS is asking, so please take a moment and provide some constructive input into the process. But don’t take too long, because the DHS collaboration community is scheduled to be active only through Sept. 7.

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Insights from Donny Jackson concerning the most important news, trends and issues.

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Donny Jackson

Donny Jackson is editor of Urgent Communications magazine. Before joining UC in 2002, he covered telecommunications for four years as a freelance writer and as news editor for Telephony magazine....
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