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Driving innovation for disaster response to support America’s first responders and build resilient communities

EDA logo, NIST logo, FirstNet logo

By John Fleming, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development; Dr. Walter G. Copan, Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director; and Acting CEO Edward Parkinson, First Responder Network Authority

Never is the nexus of public safety response and economic impact more prevalent than during a disaster. From flooding to hurricanes and wildfires, during a disaster, it is imperative that public safety and local officials have the best tools and technologies to save lives. Having this critical response infrastructure is also instrumental in helping local economies recover and remain resilient into the future. That’s why three agencies within the U.S. Department of Commerce – the Economic Development Administration (EDA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) are working together to help foster innovations in response and resiliency technologies.

The Accelerate R2 Network Challenge is designed to connect stakeholders in the disaster response and resiliency industries across geographies to accelerate the pace at which startups, established corporations, and other organizations bring technological advances into the market. We are seeking applications from eligible parties to create a strategic nationwide network of organizations working to address disaster response and resiliency (R2) challenges with innovative technologies. The winner, or winners, of the Accelerate R2 Network Challenge will be awarded up to $1 million to support focused, national strategies that will enhance entrepreneurship across these industries. Applicants must submit letters of intent by January 8, 2020, and final applications by March 11, 2020.

Our agencies play an active role in both areas of response and resiliency. NIST’s Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) division, within its Communications Technology Laboratory, is supporting the response portion of this grant. PSCR is the primary federal laboratory conducting research, development, testing, and evaluation for public safety communications technologies. It addresses the research and development (R&D) necessary for critical features identified by public safety entities beyond the current generation of broadband technology. NIST also has programs that develop science-based tools to support resilience and study disasters to improve building codes and emergency response and communications.

The mission of EDA is to lead the federal economic development agenda by promoting competitiveness and preparing the nation's regions for growth and success in the worldwide economy. EDA is on the ground both before and after disasters strike. As the coordinator of the Economic Recovery Support Function (ERSF) under the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF), EDA frequently deploys staff to work hand-in-hand with other federal agencies and state/territory governments to help local communities stabilize their economies, create new economic opportunities, and increase their resilience to future disasters through a variety of infrastructure and capacity building grant programs.

The FirstNet Authority’s mission is to develop, build and operate the nationwide, broadband network that equips first responders to save lives and protect communities. With this much-needed technology upgrade, first responders can connect to the critical information they need every day and in every emergency. For instance, last year during Hurricane’s Michael and Florence, when commercial cellular networks went down, first responders relied on the FirstNet network during their search and rescue operations. They were able to communicate with doctors, hospitals, obtain maps and share information across state lines.

Combining our agencies’ expertise to launch the Accelerate R2 Network Challenge will encourage the creation and growth of new technology businesses and jobs across the nation and help communities – and their citizens and the responders that serve them – become safer, more resilient and prosper. The winner or winners of this challenge will join us on this mission to help support efficient and effective response during times of disaster, impacting countless lives, businesses, and local economies.

For more information on the Accelerate R2 Network Challenge or to apply, visit

Tags: Innovation & Entrepreneurship

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