• Search & rescueLouisiana’s Cajun Navy shines light on growing value of boat rescuers

    By Tricia Wachtendorf and James Kendra

    As we look at the devastating losses suffered by Louisiana communities from the recent flooding, one of the inspiring aspects to emerge from the disaster are the reports of the “Cajun Navy” – everyday residents in their boats checking on and rescuing family, friends, neighbors and even strangers in need. The efforts of the Cajun Navy, however, are not unusual. Indeed, one consolation of the disaster is the extent to which the informal responses by survivors bolster stressed and overburdened formal response systems. We must continue to learn the right lessons from disaster: that there is value of both planning and improvisation in disaster. That although citizens might sometimes make mistakes, they also enable the greatest of responses. That successful disaster response, in part, depends on a willingness of formal responders to acknowledge the capacities of our citizenry, be they mariners or farmers, welders or educators, or something else entirely.

  • Disaster responseWhen disaster-response apps fail

    By Nicholas Kman

    When a terrorist struck Nice, France, on 14 July, a new French government app designed to alert people failed. Three hours passed before SAIP, as the app is called, warned people in and around Nice to the danger on the city’s waterfront during Bastille Day festivities. This aspect of the tragedy highlights an emerging element of disaster preparation and response: the potential for smartphone apps, social media sites, and information technology more broadly to assist both emergency responders and the public at large in figuring out what is happening and what to do about it. Sadly, disasters will keep occurring. But the future is bright for improved communication when they happen. It’s even possible that someday smartphones may be able to monitor the environment automatically and contribute to disaster alert systems on their own.

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  • First responseNIST’s rolling wireless net improves first-responder communications

    First responders often have trouble communicating with each other in emergencies. They may use different types of radios, or they may be working in rural areas lacking wireless coverage, or they may be deep inside large buildings that block connections. NIST has worked with industry partners to integrate commercial technologies into a mobile wireless communications system. About the size of a large file cabinet, the platform offers more capabilities and faster setup than typical “cell on wheels” systems.

  • First-responseNICS, a communication platform for first responders, now available

    DHS S&T has announced the Next-Generation Incident Command System (NICS,) an information sharing tool for first responders, is now available worldwide. NICS is a mobile, Web-based communication platform that enables responders on scene at a developing incident to request and receive assistance from remote experts — and experts can observe an evolving situation and volunteer relevant material or resources.

  • First response technology“Liquid fingerprinting” technique identifies unknown liquids instantly

    A new company — Validere — will commercialize sensing technology invented at Harvard University that can perform instant, in-field characterization of the chemical make-up and material properties of unknown liquids. Validere aims to develop the licensed technology, called Watermark Ink (W-INK), into a pocket-sized device that could be used by first responders to quickly identify chemical spills, or by officials to verify the fuel grade of gasoline right at the pump.

  • Public safetyPublic safety consolidation works well for some communities, but not for others

    In the first comprehensive work of its kind, a Michigan State University criminologist has completed a study on the implementation and outcomes of public safety consolidation — the merging of a city’s police and fire departments. The study finds that while public safety consolidation can work well for some communities, it is not the best solution for others.

  • RobotsSwimming, crawling, climbing robot to help in security, search & rescue missions

    Researchers have developed the first single actuator wave-like robot (SAW). SAW can climb over obstacles or crawl through unstable terrain like sand, grass, and gravel, reaching a top speed of 22.5 inches. The robot will be useful for traveling through the intestine for imaging and biopsies, and for infiltrating problematic, complex security areas, such as tunnels, destroyed buildings, and pipes.

  • First responseHazmat Challenge tests skills of hazardous materials response teams

    Ten hazardous materials response teams from New Mexico, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Nebraska test their skills in a series of graded, timed exercises. The event requires participants to respond to simulated hazardous materials emergencies involving aircraft, rail and highway transportation, industrial piping, a simulated radiological release, and a confined space event.

  • First response technologyDHS S&T demonstrates integration of first responder technologies

    More ruggedized protective equipment. Reliable and interoperable communications. The capability to filter vast amounts of data. These are all things DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) Next Generation First Responder (NGFR) program envisions  to ensure future first responder are better protected, connected, and fully aware.

  • ResilienceLessons learned from the U.S.-Canada cross-border experiment

    A tornado has just devastated a community on the border between the United States and Canada. Paramedics scramble to bring patients from over-crowded hospitals across the border. Communication blackouts and downed trees force ambulances to weave their way through blowing debris, fallen electrical lines, and car wrecks. The time for a routine trip from the injury site to the hospital has now tripled. While this did not really happen, it was the focus in April when the DHS S&T and several Canadian government agencies collaborated on a cross-border experiment with a focus on preparing emergency responders for this type of scenario.

  • Disaster evacuationLooking for ways to predict response to hurricane evacuation orders

    Millions of people will likely be in harm’s way as a new hurricane season unfolds in the United States. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts up to eight hurricanes in the 2016 season, and as many as four major storms with winds of 111 miles per hour or more. What people do – or do not do – to get out of harm’s way is of keen interest to disaster and emergency response officials. Plans and contingencies work best when they are based on reliable predictions.

  • Trauma careIntegrating military, civilian trauma care systems could prevent up to 20% of U.S. trauma deaths

    The leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 46 is trauma — a disabling or life-threatening physical injury that results from an event such as a motor vehicle crash, gun violence, or fall. In 2013, trauma cost approximately $670 billion in medical care expenses and lost productivity. Of the 147,790 U.S. trauma deaths in 2014, as many as 20 percent — or about 30,000 — may have been preventable after injury with optimal trauma care. Mass casualty incidents and increasing foreign and domestic threats to homeland security lend urgency to the translation of wartime lessons to civilian trauma systems, says a new report.

  • First responseDatacasting helps first responders with live video streaming via smartphone

    When torrential storms caused widespread flooding in Houston, Texas, in mid-April, first responders needed a way securely to share information amongst their many organizations. Luckily the DHS S&T First Responders Group’s (FRG) datacasting system was available. Datacasting provides public safety users with the capability to transmit secure video and data over existing broadcast television signals to a targeted audience. Even in an emergency situation, where other wireless services often fail due to network congestion, datacasting still provides a reliable platform to quickly send large files.

  • RoboticsHazardous-devices teams compete at the Robot Rodeo, 14-17 June

    Hazardous-devices teams from around the Southwest will wrangle their bomb-squad robots at the tenth annual Robot Rodeo beginning Tuesday, 14 June, at Los Alamos National Laboratory. “The Robot Rodeo gives bomb-squad teams the opportunity to practice and hone their skills in a lively but low-risk setting,” said a member of the Laboratory’s hazardous-devices team.

  • 9/11 search-and-rescueLast surviving 9/11 search-and-rescue dog dies, receives hero's send-off

    The last surviving search and rescue dog who worked at Ground Zero following the 9/11 terrorist attacks died on Monday. Bretagne, a 16-year-old golden retriever, was put down at Fairfield Animal Hospital in Cypress, Texas. As Bretagne slowly walked into the hospital, she was saluted by representatives of state agencies who came to pay their respects.