• WildfiresData Science Could Help Californians Battle Future Wildfires

    By David Wild

    A major wildfire spread through Colorado, and I spent long hours locating shelters, identifying evacuation routes and piecing together satellite imagery. As the Fourmile Canyon Fire devastated areas to the west of Boulder, ultimately destroying 169 homes and causing $217 million in damage, my biggest concerns were ensuring that people could safely evacuate and first responders had the best chance of keeping the fire at bay. The oddest thing about that 7 September 2010? I spent it sitting comfortably in my home in Bloomington, Indiana, a thousand miles away from the action.

  • Chemical attacksPreparing for Chemical Attacks

    Is the U.S. ready for a chemical attack on the homeland? With the very real possibility of a chemical attack in public spaces like stadiums, religious buildings, museums and theaters, or even contamination of the food or water supply, the U.S. needs to be prepared to take appropriate action to save lives. This means having security measures in place to prevent or minimize the attack. It also means having effective medical responses that consider the quantity of medical supplies needed, transportation of those supplies to the scene, and medical facilities and personnel to care for the injured.

  • HurricanesMonitoring Hurricanes: Better Life-Saving, Property-Preserving Decisions

    When a natural disaster strikes, first responders step in to reduce harm and save lives. They risk their lives in highly unpredictable environments — often without clear knowledge of the dangers they are facing or where they are needed most. Now, imagine if responders could make use of cutting-edge disaster forecasting models in conjunction with real-time data to predict a disaster’s impact and then use that information to make better-informed decisions. Fewer lives would be lost and more people would receive the help they need.

  • Disaster responseRobotic Lifeguard EMILY Proves Itself in the Wake of Hurricane Dorian

    The responders who came to the rescue a day after Hurricane Dorian finished lashing Abaco Island in the Bahamas had a tool to get ashore, so they could provide medical care and supplies to stricken islanders. It was EMILY the robotic lifeguard—officially known as the Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard—a remote-controlled unmanned surface vehicle that has proven its mettle saving imperiled swimmers during natural disasters and humanitarian crises.

  • DetectionHelping First Responders Identify Unknown Chemicals

    First responders arrive first on the scene when disaster strikes or terrorists attack. They often encounter dangerous conditions like smoke and chemicals. To best help in situations like these, they need to know the chemical substances present onsite. This is where analytical field instruments such as Gas Chromatograph/Mass Spectrometers (GC/MS) come into play. But to acquire such technology, first responders first need to know which GC/MSs suit both their needs and their budgets.

  • First respondersIn-Suit Communications Equipment for First Responders

    Every day, across the nation, emergency responders are dispatched to calls with situations ranging from basic structural fires to complex search and rescue operations to domestic violence or assaults. Emergency responders answering those calls for help oftentimes arrive at a scene with limited information, so communication between themselves and their colleagues becomes of the utmost importance. When responding to a hazardous material incident, personal protective equipment (PPE) may need to be worn, which can significantly impact the ability to communicate.

  • DisastersThe Complications of Counting Casualties after Natural Disasters

    There are many gray areas when collecting data on how and why people died in a disaster. A new study now underway aims to identify best practices for collecting, recording, and reporting death and illness data during and immediately after large-scale weather disasters.

  • PreparednessPreparing for the Unexpected Disaster

    When thinking of earthquakes in the U.S., California often comes to mind. But what if a massive earthquake suddenly struck Middle America? Would first responders and emergency managers have the tools to swiftly secure infrastructure and ensure public safety? Would every level of government, as well as stakeholders at non-governmental organizations or in the private sector, know how to properly communicate and share resources? DHS S&T asked itself these questions, and they were the driving force behind S&T joining FEMA and others for FEMA’s 2019 Shaken Fury exercise.

  • First respondersHazmat Challenge Tests Responders’ Skills in Simulated Emergencies

    Ten hazardous materials response teams are testing their skills in a series of graded exercises Aug. 19-23 at Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Hazmat Challenge. “Toughest scenarios yet” plus an obstacle course help hazmat teams hone their abilities.

  • Artificial intelligenceEvaluate AI capabilities in Helping Paramedics

    Paramedics must make numerous life-saving decisions, often in the back of an ambulance with limited time. While they at times call doctors for additional medical directives, precious seconds tick away for the patient during these back-and-forth conversations. DHS S&T partnered with its Canadian counterpart to examine whether artificial intelligence could be used to improve that information overload.

  • Perspective: Disaster techThis High-Tech Solution to Disaster Response May Be Too Good to Be True

    The company called One Concern has all the characteristics of a buzzy and promising Silicon Valley start-up: young founders from Stanford, tens of millions of dollars in venture capital and a board with prominent names. Its particular niche is disaster response. And it markets a way to use artificial intelligence to address one of the most vexing issues facing emergency responders in disasters: figuring out where people need help in time to save them. That promise to bring new smarts and resources to an anachronistic field has generated excitement. But there are skeptics, and interviews and documents show the company has often exaggerated its tools’ abilities and has kept outside experts from reviewing its methodology.

  • PerspectiveWorst Rainfall in 150 Years Damages Pennsylvania Homes, Roads

    According to the 150 years of data used by the National Weather Service, 2018 was the wettest year in the Berks region of Pennsylvania, with 68.08 inches of precipitation measured at Reading Regional Airport. This year is ahead of last year’s pace, with 38.21 inches already, far above the normal rate of 24.18 inches. Records for the wettest 12-month period are being set each month, according to the weather service. Some municipal officials say their infrastructure and stormwater management systems can’t handle the amount of rain we’re now receiving, and they are trying to figure out what type of improvements they can afford.

  • First respondersKeeping First Responders Safe

    When two powerful earthquakes rocked southern California earlier this month, officials’ attention focused, understandably, on safety. How many people were injured? Were buildings up to code? How good are we at predicting earthquakes? Not a lot of people were thinking about urine, blood, and spit. But those substances are key to a PNNL effort to learn more about the health and safety of first responders.

  • Explosives detectorsAssessing Handheld Explosives Trace Detectors

    Individuals who carry explosives or have been involved in bomb making are likely to be contaminated with trace explosives, microscopic particles invisible to the naked eye. Without the right equipment, detecting trace explosives can be challenging for responders and security personnel. Handheld explosives trace detectors (ETDs) can be used to complement bomb-sniffing canines, which are still the gold standard in trace explosives detection. These detectors can be used to find trace explosives on individuals, hopefully preventing a dangerous incident.

  • EarthquakeNew Sensor Improves Earthquake Response Efforts

    The recent massive southern California earthquakes shut down Ridgecrest Regional Hospital throughout the 4 July holiday weekend while the tiny town of Ridgecrest assessed the damages. Researchers developed a new optical sensor which could speed up the time it takes to evaluate whether critical buildings like these are safe to occupy shortly after a major earthquake.