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Emerging Technology in Criminal Justice

Public Safety in Critical Incidents

Fire Fighters, Street, Emergency, Danger, Rescue
Critical incidents are those that pose a significant risk to public safety and require a multidisciplinary response from the public safety community. Critical incidents include natural disasters, industrial accidents, transportation incidents (such as train derailments and plane crashes), and school security and terrorist incidents. Critical incidents also include more common events, such as building fires and highway traffic incidents. 
Developing technology for public safety in critical incident response is inherently an interagency process. In the example of through-the-wall surveillance technology (see section I of this Guide), the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is collaborating with a number of other agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The ability to communicate and exchange information among different agencies responding to critical incidents e.g., fire, emergency medical services, HAZMAT, and law enforcement—is crucial to effective response (see also section III, chapter 12, Communications Interoperability).
Terrorism is a type of criminal activity that is of enormous concern. The potentially devastating consequences of terrorist acts involving weapons of mass destruction (WMD) could affect the entire Nation. Since 1996, the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) and its partners have  worked together to develop the Nation’s ability to deal with terrorism. Pursuant to the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (Public Law 104–132), OJP’s initial efforts focused on addressing the unmet technology needs of first responders at the State and local levels, including setting the standards needed to develop and test those technologies. 
In 1997, NIJ funded the Inventory of State and Local Law Enforcement Technology Needs To Combat Terrorism, which involved interviews and group discussions with 195 representatives from 138 agencies from all 50 States and the District of Columbia. (More information on the inventory can be found at Based on the inventory, NIJ has crafted its Critical Incident Response/Counterterrorism Technologies Program into a comprehensive effort focused on addressing the unique technology needs of the entire first responder community. The program is advocating the needs identified in relevant forums, including the Technical Support Working Group (TSWG), National Domestic Preparedness Office (NDPO), and Weapons of Mass Destruction Working Group.
In 1998, OJP created the Office for State and Local Domestic Preparedness Support (OSLDPS) to assist State and local response agencies throughout the United States in preparing for incidents of domestic terrorism. OSLDPS offers assistance to emergency response agencies through financial aid for purchasing equipment, training for emergency response personnel, support in making critical decisions, and exercise support that enables State and local response planning and procedures. The efforts of OJP in counterterrorism and domestic preparedness are closely coordinated with NDPO, a publicly accessible interagency office that assists first responders by serving as the single office for the coordination of the Federal programs involving domestic preparedness. NDPO consists of representatives from the Department of Justice (OSLDPS and Federal Bureau of Investigation), Department  of Defense (DoD), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Environmental Protection  Agency (EPA), Department of Energy (DOE), National Guard Bureau, and State and local representatives. NIJ has established two congressionally  and dated counterterrorism research institutes, the Oklahoma City Memorial Foundation and the Dartmouth Institute for Security Studies (at Dartmouth College’s Thayer School of Engineering); both receive funding from NIJ, and their work is being coordinated with that of OSLDPS and NDPO. 
In this section, we examine technologies related to detecting and disposing of explosives (chapter 9), responding to the threat of chemical and biological attacks (chapter 10), and assessing threats to the security of our transportation infrastructure (chapter 11). Less-than-lethal weapons and through-the-wall surveillance are useful technologies in hostage rescue situations. They are discussed in chapters 4 and 6, respectively. Communications interoperability, which is essential to critical incident response, is discussed in chapter 12.


Frey, R. J. (2013). Emergency preparedness. In L. J. Fundukian (Ed.), The Gale Encyclopedia of Public Health (Vol. 1, pp. 287-292). Detroit: Gale. Retrieved from