The National Academies

NCHRP 20-06/Topic 17-03 [Completed]

First Responders
[ NCHRP 20-06 (Legal Problems Arising out of Highway Programs) ]

  Project Data
Funds: $38,250
Research Agency: SmithAmundsen, LLC
Principal Investigator: James B. McDaniel
Effective Date: 7/1/2010
Completion Date: 5/31/2011

The applicability of various federal requirements, as well as the availability of certain funding streams, hinges on the classification of an individual as a “first responder.” In the near future, the development of a “National Broadband Plan” by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will provide much-needed direction for a communications band used by those classified as “first responders.” The precise manner in which this term is defined will therefore have ramifications for the entire public safety community, including transportation agencies.

Preliminary evidence suggests that a number of incompatible definitions may exist. One such conflict has been noted between the definition created in the 1930s for use by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and a broader definition more recently articulated by Homeland Security legislation. Traditionally, the FCC has used the term “first responder” to refer only to fire, police, and emergency medical personnel. A shift toward an all hazards approach in emergency preparedness and response, however, has driven an evolution of this definition in the Homeland Security arena, expanding it to also include emergency management, public health, clinical care, public works, and other skilled support personnel. Interpretations of the “first responder” designation must be reconciled in order to ensure a common understanding and a cohesive federal approach in the effort to improve emergency response capabilities. 

This research project should: (1) identify the legislation, regulations, and executive orders in which the term “first responder” is defined; (2) briefly summarize the legislation / regulation / order to understand their scope and purpose;  (3) provide the definition existing in the source documents; and (4) highlight any commonalities or inconsistencies between the definitions.

STATUS: Research has been completed and published as NCHRP Research Results Digest 385 which is available for download from the TRB website.

The NCHRP Project Panel 20-59, Surface Transportation Security Research and NCHRP Project Panel 20-06, Legal Problems Arising out of Highway Programs jointly oversaw the technical aspects of this research.

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