Smart Cards Proposed for First Responders

A consortium of security vendors is trying to make it easier for emergency personnel to identify themselves at the scene of a disaster.

The group, called Tiers of Trust, will help groups like local police and fire departments develop smart-card identification systems based on a federal ID standard called the Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 201.

The FIPS 201 standard defines how smart card identification credentials are to be used by federal employees and an estimated 3 million local first responders must also comply with the standard in order to qualify for federal grant money, the Tiers of Trust Consortium said.

But complying with the FIPS 201 standard can be expensive, and the consortium thinks that it can help local departments cut costs by offering them a helping hand with the process. "What we're trying to do is make it easier and more effective for first responders to be FIPS-compliant... so they can go and do their jobs," said Howard Schmidt, the former cybersecurity advisor to the White House, and a backer of the project.

The consortium's ultimate goal is to help create a nationwide ID system that will prevent the logistical snafus that first responders experienced during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina, said Schmidt, who is president and CEO of R&H Security Consulting LLC.

In both disasters there were problems identifying and keeping track of first responders.

During Katrina, for example, many professionals who made it to the disaster area were unable to help. "First responders didn't have a compliant identification system, so they were turned away," he said.

Tiers of Trust's program is available to many different types of U.S. first responder organization including fire, police, rescue and public health departments. Utilities, communications and transportation companies can also participate.

The group is sponsored by a number of security companies including PGP Corp., HID Global Corp., and Secure Network Systems LLC.

The consortium's Web site is set to go live on Tuesday. Participating organizations have until year's end to apply for the program.

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