Hacking for the Homeland

By Adam Lotia

What did you do this weekend? I spent some time Hacking for the Homeland at Tech Wildcatters. Don’t worry; Hacking for the Homeland is a hack-a-thon, an event where developers are challenged to use new code in interesting ways in order to create a new product, project, or application for prizes—not something out of a bad Hollywood movie. These hack-a-thons foster creativity and help advance innovation.

In this case, the challenge setup by Tech Wildcatters and The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was to take sensors and make a wearable to help first responders at emergency sites. The ultimate prize was to join the seed accelerator class for the DHS and create a wearable product. The most notable presentations for the event were a triage patch and a location sensor for firefighters.

In large-scale emergencies, an area is setup to place patients in order of treatment need, from urgent to least urgent. First responders currently use a simple paper tag system. However, if anything happens to a patient while he or she is waiting, first responders are not informed of it unless they directly interact with the patient. To solve this, one of the teams created a patch that would be self-powered and report changes of the patient’s status. The tag would visually alert and change status of the patient if care was needed.

When firefighters are fighting a fire there is a practice called venting to cut holes in the roof of the structure of that is on fire. One practice firefighters use when combatting fires is called venting--they cut holes in the roof of  the structure that is on fire. But, this can prove dangerous to the firefighters themselves: oftentimes while venting, a firefighter may fall through the roof into the structure, getting separated from the rest of the team. Locating and retrieving this firefighter can be difficult with all that is going on in a scene. To solve these problems, another team created a simple deployable beacon system that would be able to micro-locate the firefighter’s position and show his or her location in real time.

Seeing what could be built so quickly and how lives could be saved with these new technologies definitely made for a fun weekend. I began thinking about all of these half-completed projects that never get beyond the hack-a-thon. What if these incomplete business plans and projects were thought through and funded? We’d have so many products that would push the envelope of innovation, and ourselves, further than we’d ever imagined.