Month: June 2020

Building small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) Capability in the Maryland-National Capital Region

Situational awareness is a critical priority for emergency response partners in the Maryland-National Capital Region. Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) provides an aerial viewpoint of an incident in an efficient and effective manner without the use of costly standard aviation resources such as helicopters that can be easily managed at an agency level. sUAS assists incident commanders in gathering information to assist decision making at complex incidents. In recent years, the utilization of sUAS, often referred to as drones, has become prevalent in many areas of the United States to support emergency responders.

In addition to situational awareness, many sUAS platforms provide the capability for a variety of specific operations to include explosive detection, night vision, radiological detection, thermal imaging, search and rescue operations, and damage assessment.

In late 2018, Maryland-National Capital Region Emergency Response System (MDERS) began the sUAS capability development planning process with stakeholder agencies in Montgomery County following several high-profile incidents where an sUAS capability could have played a substantive role in the response. This planning process consisted of initiating capability development plan, developing policies and procedures, identifying training opportunities, developing operations manuals, and purchasing necessary equipment to meet agency needs. This process was expanded to include Prince George’s County agencies in 2019. Due to the regulations surrounding federal grant funding, each agency’s policy and equipment purchases must be submitted and approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) prior to the purchase of any equipment.

As of June 2020, the sUAS capability has been operationalized by the Montgomery County Police Department, and the Prince George’s County Police Department is actively procuring sUAS equipment to begin their sUAS program.

Both the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and the Montgomery County Fire Rescue Service have submitted their policies and equipment justification lists and are currently awaiting future approval to being procurement to operationalize their sUAS programs.

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Enhancing SWAT Operations in the Maryland-National Capital Region

Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams are a critical law enforcement resource in the Maryland-National Capital Region. Their preparation for response to high threat, escalating law enforcement or terrorism incidents requires significant training, organization, and specialized equipment to efficiently and effectively neutralize or de-escalate threats.

Working with the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) Special Operations Division (SOD) Tactical Team and the Prince George’s County Police Department (PGPD) Special Operations Division (SOD) Emergency Services Team (EST), MDERS personnel have identified four sub-capabilities to form the overall SWAT Operations Capability Development. These sub-capabilities are breaching, command, close quarter battle (CQB) and sniper operations.

The breaching sub-capability includes supplies and training to support the use of hand tools, hydraulic breaching tools, and explosives. Each team established a minimum number of personnel to receive this technical training.

The command component consists of SWAT Operations specific Incident Command training ranging from tactical decision-making to escalating, expanding incidents.

CQB provides personnel with the ability to efficiently and effectively clear rooms and buildings of threats in the safest manner possible. This requires substantial team coordination.

Finally, sniper operations ensure each team can provide longer range protection for personnel from threats and the ability to safely neutralize threats from a concealed location or position some distance away. This includes training on various concealment techniques and long-range marksmanship.

MDERS has supported approximately 30+ SWAT trainings in the last several years. The addition of specialized training and equipment is necessary to fulfill the capability in both counties. Enhancement in both areas is financially intensive, requiring a multi- year, phased approach to continue development of the SWAT Operations capability.

Command Officer Professional Development Program

A capability is the ability to complete a critical mission or function through a set of tasks, at a specific time, under a set of conditions, to a set standard.  

Building a capability is a long and arduous process.  Moreover, sometimes the direction can be ambiguous and unclear but when the results are achieved, the victory is sweet.

The Maryland-National Capital Emergency Response System (MDERS) supports the integration of police, fire/EMS, hospitals, public health, and emergency management for coordinated response to emergency incidents.  Through strategic planning, information sharing, training and exercising, and equipment acquisition, MDERS creates response capabilities.  One such capability is the recent collaboration of MDERS with the Prince George’s County Fire Department/EMS (PGFD) in the development of the Command Officers Professional Development Program (COPD).  

In 2017, PGFD participated in capability development workshops.  Each workshop assessed the department’s ability to respond to an active shooter incident. This process followed the Homeland Security and Exercise Evaluation Program (HSEEP) framework.  Each workshop group responded to a set of facilitated questions to identify needs in the areas of planning, organizing, training, equipping, exercises, and evaluating (POETEE).

A report from the workshops was developed and presented to key PGFD leaders.  The results identified three areas of need. First, PGFD supervisors and managers require clear direction on policy related to their response to active violent incidents.  Second, personnel require more situations and repetitions (scenarios and practice) to build experience, confidence, and to enhance their decision making capacity at emergency incidents.  Finally, workshop participants identified that they wanted localized training.  It was important for them to have learning opportunities at their respective fire stations.

Working with MDERS staff, tabletop exercises were developed. These exercises focused on the initial actions of the first arriving units. A set of scenarios were developed, including a single-family home fire, a multi-casualty incident, and a garden apartment fire.  The exercise objectives were threefold: incident command, allocation of resources, and medical management of casualties. 

More than 100 PGFD personnel participated in this process.  The results from the tabletop exercises validated the initial report from the earlier workshops. PGFD leadership then requested that MDERS provide assistance to design a command officer professional development program to address this identified gap. 

MDERS strategized with PGFD to establish, goals, objectives, and deliverables. MDERS staff established three PGFD workgroups, each with an individual task, including writing policy, researching equipment specifications, and identifying an appropriate simulation application for the department.

PGFD and MDERS consulted with regional partners for assistance in carrying out those tasks.  Representatives from the Montgomery County Fire Rescue Service (MCFRS) and Loudoun County Fire Department (LCFD) provided guidance. This included on-site visits to observe and gather best practice information. These partners also aided in identifying policies, procedures, methods, and lessons learned in command competency programs. 

Following those visits, the work groups identified the necessary resources. This included personnel, software, and equipment.   Additional research identified Sims U Share as the preferred simulation software for command competency and incident management.  This application uses simulation to create events that firefighters and EMS clinicians may encounter. It combines real world fire and rescue incidents with gaming elements. This cloud based user-friendly application allows members to easily build custom scenarios that can be viewed or shared within the department.

There is a set of knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) required by incident commanders.  Among those KSAs is the capability to quickly and effectively manage incidents and allocate resources.  The COPD is a success story in moving PGFD forward in incident command, resource allocation and the provision of training at the station level.

This process required communication, collaboration and coordination with multiple agencies to deliver on time, task, and target.  PGFD Deputy Fire Chief Brian Frankel stated that, “This is one of the most important steps the department can invest in for the future of our personnel, communities, and region.” MDERS Director Luke Hodgson reflected, “Refining command competency will create a culture of incident management that will be applicable on every incident and will positively impact all of our residents and visitors, while protecting our response personnel.”

If you would like additional information about this program please contact Mike McAdams, Program Manager at

Utility Terrain Vehicles (UTV) – from Concept to Capability

The Maryland-National Capital Region Emergency Response System (MDERS) provides its member organizations with the services to develop comprehensive emergency response capabilities.  This includes dissecting a problem statement, developing a desired outcome state, and reverse engineering.  The result is a full set of plans, organizations, equipment, trainings, and exercises that address the entire need.  The case below highlights the benefits received from the MDERS methodology to address local needs.

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Members of the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service (MCFRS), Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD), Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department (PGFD), Prince George’s County Police Department (PGPD). And Maryland ERS (MDERS) conducted a needs assessment to evaluate capabilities for off-road response to routine and large-scale events.  The team focused on after-action reports and incidents from all departments. That report identified a set of gaps that included policy development, equipment needs, and training requirements. Working with local leaders, MDERS received an allocation from the Urban Area Security Initiative to address those needs.

All departments developed a policy to address the technical rescue operations. Operational personnel completed training on the Utility Terrain Vehicle (UTV).  All vehicles, equipment, and training were purchased using Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) funds to address gaps in response, rescue, and evacuation of casualties from a terrorist incident, while also recognizing the dual-use for routine emergency operations for each department. Montgomery and Prince George’s County police and fire departments received a combination of 17 units with equipment and removable skids. 

Training for vehicle operation requires two full days of hands-on instruction by staff in challenging remote locations.  All personnel were required to complete online training and driving courses.  The course is designed to provide the vehicle operator the knowledge and experience for trailer connection, operations, and maintenance.  Personnel complete twelve hours of driving preparation, skills practice, and written evaluation. This capability offers first responders a rapid response platform to deliver personnel, medical equipment, and patient transport access to remote areas.

The MCFRS and PGFD assigned these assets to various stations.  The police department’s assigned these vehicles to their Special Operations Sections. Each UTV is stored in a weather-protected trailer with supporting supplies for quick deployment. Each department secured funds to allocate support vehicles to tow the trailers, establish facility upgrades for the electrical power source to charge all equipment, and to provide designated interior storage space.  This cooperative arrangement provides the community of Montgomery and Prince George’s County the resources necessary to respond to an emergency incident, even in austere terrain.


Each UTV provides seating to deliver four personnel to the scene of an off road or remote incident.  The frame design allows easy configuration changes for load carry, emergency medical service response, and protected patient transport.  Designed as an off road vehicle, the frame is lightweight, extremely durable, and equipped with a winch capable of moving 3,000 pounds.  Lighting for the vehicle is provided by an energy efficient LED mounted system.  These features provide safety benefits to the rescuers, patients, and bystanders.

The Maryland-National Capital Region Emergency Response System (MDERS) is a federally-funded grant program administered by MIEMSS. Please contact Mike McAdams, Planning & Organization Program Manager, at for additional information.

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