An emergency responder trying to extinguish a wildfire in California can now receive immediate advice from a topography researcher at a remote university.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) announced on Monday the Next-Generation Incident Command System (NICS). NICS is a Web-based platform that can be accessed on mobile devices; it allows for communication between first responders at an incident and remote experts. University professors and researchers can provide input as to how responders should handle certain emergencies.

The press release stated that NICS has transitioned to the open-source community. DHS has been funding the development of NICS since 2010; now, anyone can access it for free.

“Through strong partnerships within the State of California, responder organizations across the United States, and the State of Victoria in Australia, NICS software is deployed as an operational tool in many first responder communities,” said Dan Cotter, director of S&T’s First Responders Group. “And now that the platform code has been made available to the open-source community, first responders can leverage this tool from anywhere in the world.”

While NICS is now available to anyone, the software itself has been in play for a few years. In 2014, Emergency Management Victoria launched a similar information sharing platform using NICS code. In April 2016, California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) used the software to create Situation Awareness & Collaboration Tool (SCOUT) for the state’s emergency responders.

S&T is working on making NICS code available through three venues. Emergency Management teams can find the code at GitHub, the Federal government’s source code repository site. The California nonprofit organization Worldwide Incident Command Services Corporation has made the code available under the name RAVEN. In the fall, the NICS software will be accessible from the DHS Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN).

“Because of the success of these partnerships—and the advancements they have enabled—DHS S&T successfully transitioned the NICS software from a research and development effort to an operational capability,” the release stated.

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