This week has us all taking a moment to pause and remember the deadly attacks that brought America to its knees. Al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four planes carrying innocent passengers, and two of them were flown into the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York, which toppled to the ground, leaving devastation in their wake.

Sadly, the coordinated attacks killed nearly 3,000 people, injured many thousands more, and caused billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure and property damage. While there were many deaths on 9/11, we saw what first responders are able to do when called upon.

For this column, I think it’s so important to remember these fallen heroes by focusing on vital technologies and solutions that can help first responders in times of crisis. According to the United States First Responders Assn., a first responder is any individual who runs toward an event, rather than running away.

A first responder is really any person including a firefighter, a sheriff, a security guard, an EMT, a doctor or nurse, a police officer, a paramedic, a life guard, a park ranger—the list goes on and on. Firefighters, police officers, and other first responders work together to keep us safe.

The goal of using technology is to set first responders up for success by giving them the best resources available to perform their duties. There are some exciting new applications of connected technologies that can help people get help in times of need.

For instance, it seems as if our nation’s schools have turned into battlegrounds. It’s even become a risky thing to send your children off to school. However, an app-based solution may be able to increase school safety, using cellular connectivity to get SOS messages to first responders as soon as possible and giving them the situational awareness they need to respond appropriately.

The Newberry County School District in South Carolina is one of the latest adopters of a panic button app solution that can be used to alert law enforcement, EMS, fire, and public safety officials in the event of an emergency.

The system also sends text messages to administrators when an emergency call is made within the school’s geofenced area, further ensuring everyone is made aware of emerging situations on campus.

One provider of this type of solution is Little Green Button and it’s all about facilitating crucial connections and creating situational awareness not only in education, but also in healthcare, business, and government scenarios.

The Rave Panic Button is another company that offers a panic-button app system.

Together with an incident control and response dashboard, the solution facilitates instant notification of responders and on-site staff, internal communication, location-based alerting, and, in general, better coordination and response.

In Foxborough, Mass., where, as of this month, first responders at the Foxborough Fire Dept., are being equipped with a new device that should help them save lives. The Philip’s Medical Devices use ultrasound technology to allow paramedics to examine patients and to better understand their conditions. This will truly help responders decide what steps to take next.

For instance, the devices can help responders diagnose things like internal bleeding and collapsed lungs after a car crash. This can give them a sense of how dire the situation is and which nearby medical facility is best for the patient’s circumstance. The data collected is used to gain insights into the frequency and severity of injuries occurring in different places and for different reasons.

With this type of decision-enhancing big data available to first-response agencies, departments can make better decisions about where to deploy officers for patrol and how to train their regional first-response teams based on historical trends.

The government is also getting on board by seeking out new first-response technologies that can give responders an edge during crises.

An initiative called “xTechSearch” or the “Army Expeditionary Search” was created in June to look for ways non-traditional partners such as startup technology companies can partner with the army to tackle some of the pressing challenges.

One such challenge is routing military first responders to people and points of interest faster and more efficiently. At the end of last month, xTechSearch invited SimpleSense, a sensor tech startup, to expedite the competition by pitching its technology to a panel of judges at the army research laboratory west.

SimpleSense has developed sensor technology that provides smart routing to spots of interest for first responders and military operations. The tech uses sensor fusion and intelligent algorithms to reduce response times and provide actionable situational awareness.

SimpleSense is pitching the idea that more data does not equal more intelligence, and what the army really needs is the ability to turn data into actionable insights. In emergency situations, like an active shooter scenario in a public place, implementing simplified, automated delivery of smart orders to the responders—the boots on the ground, if you will—could result in a dramatic improvement in response time. SimpleSense is proposing a 30% improvement—a significant improvement that could save lives.

This competition is starting a dialog between the military and the technology industry about first-response solutions. It’s essentially reaching out to small businesses and other nontraditional partners, breaking down some of the barriers typically faced when working with the military and other government entities.

In today’s connected world, responders are being equipped with devices for communication, environmental sensors, physiological monitors, and other equipment to help them perform their duties with the help of realtime or near-realtime data.

As a result, there is an increased need for sources of power to operate this equipment that facilitates situational awareness. A couple of weeks ago, the Dept. of Homeland Security science and technology directorate awarded nearly $200,000 to a company called Protect the Force for the development of photovoltaic energy-harvesting fabrics.

Photovoltaic materials produce electricity through exposure to light, and energy-harvesting fabrics to not only produce but also store electricity within a fabric weave.

This gives fabrics the ability to power portable electronic devices. It’s an amazing concept, and it’s one that could provide first responders with a critical portable power source. Perhaps the bigger question is are we as a society truly investing the time and resources to make sure our first responders have the technology they need when and where they need it? Now that’s really a much bigger discussion, isn’t it?

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