Imagine walking through town, and seeing someone on the sidewalk ahead of you suddenly collapse. What do you do? Today, you might instinctively reach...

Imagine walking through town, and seeing someone on the sidewalk ahead of you suddenly collapse. What do you do?

Today, you might instinctively reach for your phone to dial 9-1-1. A couple of decades from now, you might not need to, as the victim’s smartphone has already detected that its owner is unconscious and has called for an ambulance.

That’s just one of many innovations that futurists at the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) envision for tomorrow’s police, firefighters, paramedics and other emergency responders.

Working with DHS first responders and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, futurists at the Homeland Security Studies & Analysis Institute came up with a wish list of technologies that could help emergency workers do their jobs better, quicker and more safely. Imagining also that there would be no funding limitations for such technologies, they came up with ideas like:

  • “Augmented reality” eyeglasses or wristphones to help police officers quickly identify suspects and locate weapons before they’re used;
  • Ambulances that can automatically mute loud music in nearby cars and turn red lights green as they rush to an emergency;
  • Phones with a virtual physician function that can help passersby administer first aid until paramedics arrive;
  • Phones that can download a patient’s medical history as paramedics begin treating someone;
  • “Iron Man lite”-type exoskeleton gear to enable paramedics to carry victims to an ambulance;
  • Smoke-penetrating goggles for firefighters;
  • Headgear that can provide firefighters with “situational awareness” about temperatures, oxygen levels, structural layouts and potential hazards like collapsing ceilings;
  • Smarter software to help direct portable generators, clean drinking water and food to locations where they’re most needed after a hurricane or other disaster;
  • Universal translators for easy communication with people who speak other languages;
  • Intelligent avatars that understand natural speech.

“Revolutionary ways of working are often invented because visionaries saw a need and a novel way to meet it,” said Bob Tuohy, deputy director of the DHS institute.

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