• Gas masksBetter gas mask filters

    In research that could lead to better gas mask filters, scientists have been putting the X-ray spotlight on composite materials in respirators used by the military, police, and first responders, and the results have been encouraging. What they are learning not only provides reassuring news about the effectiveness of current filters in protecting people from lethal compounds such as VX and sarin, but they also provide fundamental information that could lead to more advanced gas masks as well as protective gear for civilian applications.

  • Disaster evacuationExplaining personal hurricane evacuation decisions

    Why do some people living in the path of a major hurricane decide to evacuate while others stay put? That’s what researchers want to know so that they can improve how emergency evacuations are handled. The researchers are gathering information about residents in areas hit by hurricanes Irma and Harvey to learn more about how people make decisions in risky situations. This will ultimately help officials and emergency personnel better manage evacuations in the future.

  • DisastersDisaster zones could soon be salvaged by teams of smart devices – here’s how

    By Emma Hart and Jeremy Pitt

    We will remember 2017 as an appalling year for natural disasters. It comes months after the UN’s head of disaster planning warned that the world is not adequately preparing for disasters. This, he said, risks “inconceivably bad” consequences as climate change makes disasters more frequent and severe. In such circumstances, modern technologies like smartphones, sensors and drones could help enormously, particularly if we can get them to act like an intelligent network. We recently outlined how these three strands from political theory, social science, and biology could be brought together to develop a new paradigm for complex device networks. We see encouraging signs that such thinking is starting to catch on among researchers. These ideas should enable us to develop new approaches that will underpin and enhance a wide variety of human activities – not least when the next disaster strikes. It might even mitigate the effects of climate change, making us better at foreseeing catastrophes and taking steps to avert them.

  • First respondersFostering collaborations for bomb squad response

    Every day, state and local bomb squads place themselves in harm’s way in order to shield citizens and property from potential catastrophe. Many of the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) they face are cobbled together from everyday objects with the intent to cause maximum casualties and damage—the reality is they are easy to build, difficult to combat and their makeup constantly evolves. How do first responders stay up-to-date on the latest tactics and techniques for IED response, and how does the DHS S&T ensure state and local bomb squads have the necessary resources at their fingertips?

  • FirefightingNew mapping software makes live-fire training safer

    Better to protect soldiers and sailors during live-fire training, the Office of Naval Research’s (ONR) TechSolutions program has sponsored the development of a new Google Maps-style software tool to map out training areas in great detail. This “geospatial-awareness” tool is designed to plug into the U.S. Marine Corps’ KILSWITCH—the Kinetic Integrated Lightweight Software Individual Tactical Combat Handheld for Android.

  • DisastersImproving public safety during severe weather, other disasters

    Our ability to observe and predict severe weather events and other disasters has improved markedly over recent decades, yet this progress does not always translate into similar advances in the systems used in such circumstances to protect lives. A more cohesive alert and warning system that integrates public and private communications mechanisms and adopts new technologies quickly is needed to deliver critical information during emergency situations. At the same time, better understanding of social and behavioral factors would improve the ways we communicate about hazards, inform response decisions such as evacuations, develop more resilient urban infrastructure, and take other steps to improve weather readiness.

  • Emergency communicationCommunications system that can withstand natural disasters

    In the wake of natural disasters which have brought communication to a standstill, researchers have been leading an international research team to tackle the problems of maintaining communications under hostile conditions. A researcher at Queen’s University Belfast has been shortlisted for the 2017 Newton Prize after he created a robust wireless communications system which can battle through an earthquake, tsunami or hurricane.

  • First respondersBattling fires increases firefighters’ exposure to carcinogens

    The threat of getting burned by roaring flames is an obvious danger of firefighting, but other health risks are more subtle. For example, firefighters have been found to develop cancer at higher rates than the general population. Now researchers have measured how much firefighters’ exposure to carcinogens and other harmful compounds increases when fighting fires.

  • First respondersTraining bystanders to act as first responders

    Blood loss is the leading cause of preventable death during an active shooter or intentional mass casualty event where a medical response is delayed. To educate the public – who often find themselves on the front line in emergency situations – a team led by a trauma surgeon from Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and EMS from University Hospital are directing the largest Stop the Bleed campaign in the state, teaching laypeople basic skills of hemorrhage control for immediate, on-the-scene care.

  • Mass casualty incidentsMass casualty incidents and the overlap between trauma systems and hospital disaster preparedness

    A single patient with a gunshot wound (GSW) to a vital body part (e.g., head, chest, abdomen, or major artery) will stress a typical community hospital. The more than 500 people who were injured in Las Vegas on 1 October have been transported to a number of hospitals around Las Vegas and have overwhelmed some of the hospitals closest to the scene. A number of the injured are in critical condition and hence the death toll is likely to rise. Among other issues, this tragedy illustrates the overlap between trauma systems and hospital disaster preparedness.

  • Hurricane IrmaAI, citizen science, disaster response combine to help Hurricane Irma’s victims

    A highly unusual collaboration between information engineers at Oxford, the Zooniverse citizen science platform, and international disaster response organization Rescue Global is enabling a rapid and effective response to Hurricane Irma. The project draws on the power of the Zooniverse, the world’s largest and most popular people-powered research platform, to work with volunteers and crowd source the data needed to understand Irma’s path of destruction and the damage caused.

  • ForensicsVoice forensics to help Coast Guard nab hoax callers

    The U.S. Coast Guard receives more than 200 false distress calls a year over its Very High Frequency (VHF) radio channel 16—the mariner’s “911”—and the number is growing. These false calls are not simply a nuisance: Every distress call the Coast Guard receives compels the federal agency to launch an expensive search-and-rescue effort. In December 2014, DHS S&T connected the Coast Guard with Dr. Rita Singh of Carnegie Mellon University to see whether a voice forensic technology could be developed which would glean information from the caller’s audio signal — because this was the only evidence the Coast Guard had in cases of false distress calls.

  • Search & rescueDrones could save lives in disaster zones

    Research from the University of South Australia has shown for the first time that drones can be used to detect human vital signs in war zones and natural disasters. The researchers have successfully trialed unmanned aerial vehicles to measure heart and respiratory rates using remote-sensing imaging systems, while hovering three meters from humans.

  • Emergency communicationNo internet? No problem: Improving communications during natural disasters

    Storms like Hurricane Irma and other natural disasters bring with them lots of uncertainty: where will they go, how much damage will they cause. What is certain is that no matter where they strike, natural disasters knock out power. And no power means no internet for thousands of people in affected areas. Researchers are proposing a new way of gathering and sharing information during natural disasters that does not rely on the internet.

  • Storm surgesStorm surge prediction tool helps emergency managers

    When severe, life threatening weather systems bear down on residents and communities, emergency managers needed every tool available to make informed decisions regarding evacuations, emergency services, and resource staging. Back in June, as Tropical Storm Cindy was nearing the Texas and Louisiana coastlines, Texas state agencies – including the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT), which operates the ferries along the Texas Gulf Coast — were using a combination of online tools and observations to closely monitor water heights since ferries, a key aspect of the state evacuation plan, can’t operate if the water rises more than four and a half feet. Unfortunately, based on their observations, it looked like they were going to have to close the ferry down.