The RKB: Making an Educated Purchasing Decision

By Cortney Streets
Web Analyst
Responder Knowledge Base

The Responder Knowledge Base (RKB) is an online, integrated source of information on products, standards, certifications, grants, and equipment-related information. The RKB is funded by the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS)/FEMA and has more than 78,000 users consisting of first responders, government users, purchasers, and planners. The RKB is located at and can be used to make educated purchasing decisions.

The RKB currently offers more than 7,000 products. Sorting through all of the products and other relevant information can be a daunting task. As a result, the RKB has several ways to search for a specific product and related additional information. By clicking on the “Products” tab, purchasers can conduct a search via product type, by manufacturer/organization, by a standard related to a specific product, or by simply entering a keyword in the search field. Once populated, the user can view a listing of all relevant products and select any of the product links to view more detailed information about the products.


On the product details page, users will find “Knowledge Links” that indicate specific information related to a product including training, certifications, standards, publications, safety notices, and other related products. Knowledge Links are unique tools within the RKB and are located on the right-hand side of every record. These links connect relevant content, allowing the user to view a full circle of information. Manufacturers populate product information themselves to ensure information accuracy and completeness. Products posted to the RKB Web site are available for purchase through the vendor or manufacturer. In addition, manufacturers have the option of providing information that informs purchasers that their products are made in America. Products with this designation will be identified with a waving American flag.

Determining which product best meets an organization’s requirements can be a challenge. With this in mind, the RKB has implemented the “Volunteer User Opinion” module. First responders can volunteer their opinions about a specific piece of equipment. The only requirements are that the individual is an active first responder, has used the profiled equipment, and has no conflict of interest. If a user opinion is available for a product, it will be identified with an icon (see sidebar for list of icons). Since the RKB is not authorized to post any product opinions, users will be forwarded to a request form that enables a user to directly contact the first responder who reviewed a product.

While searching for products, users will see an icon indicating if a product is certified. Certifications inform purchasers that a product has been tested to and meets a specific standard.

With some products, additional training may be available. Therefore, the RKB has created a training section that enables purchasers to identify if training is available and, if so, if the training is free or fee-based, which is indicated by icons.

Products that have a safety notice associated with them will be identified with another icon-on both the products results and products detail pages. Safety notices provide a description of the issue, as well as the manufacturers associated with the notice. This feature enables purchasers to evaluate the safety components related to products.

In some cases, products will be associated with the Standardized Equipment List (SEL). This will be identified in the Knowledge Links section. The SEL provides a list of product categories that can be used to prepare for and during events that threaten the security of the nation and is similar to the Authorized Equipment List (AEL). Each FEMA Preparedness Grant is associated with an AEL, which is a list that specifies the equipment categories that can be purchased with specific grant funding. The AEL does not state the specific product that is allowable; it only lists the product category. The AEL is only available on the RKB.

The RKB also provides access to publications and operational assessments related to products, if applicable. These items can be found in the Knowledge Links section of the products details page. Additionally, information regarding mission-critical hints and related products or ensembles can be found in the Knowledge Links.

For additional assistance on how to use the RKB to make an educated purchasing decision, please contact the RKB Help Desk via e-mail at or by phone at 1-877-336-2752.

CORTNEY STREETS is a Web analyst for the Responder Knowledge Base Web site. Streets received a bachelor of science degree in business administration from Towson University and is currently pursuing a master of arts degree in leadership and management with a concentration in project management from Notre Dame of Maryland University.

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