First response

  • HazmatLos Alamos National Laboratory’s annual Hazmat Challenge begins today

    Twelve hazardous materials response teams from New Mexico, Missouri, and Nebraska test their skills in a series of graded, timed exercises at the 19th annual Hazmat Challenge held 27-31 July at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The competition tests skills of hazardous materials response teams in responding to simulated hazardous materials emergencies involving an aircraft, clandestine laboratories, various modes of transportation, industrial piping scenarios, a simulated radiological release, and a confined space event.

  • Health emergenciesHHS launches first compendium of resources for health emergencies

    The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last week launched the first online collection of the federal resources and capabilities available to mitigate the health impacts of emergencies. The compendium offers an easy-to-navigate, comprehensive, Web-based repository of HHS products, services, and capabilities available to state, state, tribal, territorial, and local agencies before, during, and after public health and medical incidents. The information spans twenty-four categories, and each category showcases the relevant disaster resources available from HHS and partner agencies, a brief description of each resource and information on accessing each one.

  • Emergency communicationNIST, NTIA seeking industry partners for public safety communications test bed

    The Commerce Department’s Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) program is signing up a new round of industry collaborators for the test bed used to evaluate advanced broadband equipment and software for emergency first responders. So far, thirty-nine telecommunications companies have signed new, five-year Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) to participate in the test bed program.

  • Emergency communicationWhen the phones went dead: 7/7 showed how disasters call for tomorrow’s tech

    By Nigel Linge

    At times of crisis communications are essential. The emergency services need to coordinate their response while the general public wants to contact loved ones and find out what’s happening. The problem is that there simply isn’t enough capacity for everyone to use the networks simultaneously, particularly in densely populated areas like central London. Thus, one aspect of the London bombings of 7 July 2005 that many who were there remember is that their phones went dead. Mobile phone coverage in parts of central London was almost unavailable. This was not due to damage; the emergency services had shut down public access to the networks. Today’s emergency services want to make better use of video and exploit the potential of real-time mapping applications — both of which demand a network with a greater data-handling capacity. The natural place to find this capacity is the 4G mobile network that is now being rolled out around the world. But this will require new services to be designed and built for emergency services use.

  • FirefightingFighting fires in California hobbled by hobby drones

    A spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service said last Thursday that private drone flights in restricted airspace around forest fires have impeded the efforts of firefighting crews to deal with a blaze in the San Bernardino Mountains. The incident has increased the fears of fire and aviation officials that the growing national use of hobby drones could seriously disrupt traditional air traffic and put lives at risk.

  • First response gearAlumnus’s throwable tactical camera gets commercial release

    By Rob Matheson

    Unseen areas are troublesome for police and first responders: Rooms can harbor dangerous gunmen, while collapsed buildings can conceal survivors. Now Bounce Imaging, founded by an MIT alumnus, is giving officers and rescuers a safe glimpse into the unknown. In July, the Boston-based startup will release its first line of tactical spheres, equipped with cameras and sensors, which can be tossed into potentially hazardous areas to instantly transmit panoramic images of those areas back to a smartphone.

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  • FirefightingRobots on reins to be the “eyes” of firefighters in dark, smoke-filled buildings

    Currently, even when they have a map of the building, firefighters have to grope their way forward if smoke has badly affected visibility, feeling their way along a wall or following ropes laid by the first firefighter on the scene. But with only twenty minutes of oxygen per firefighter, there is a real need for any innovation that can help them move more quickly and easily. Now, firefighters moving through smoke-filled buildings will save vital seconds and find it easier to identify objects and obstacles, thanks to revolutionary reins that enable robots to act like guide dogs.

  • FirefightingInterconnected technologies to make firefighters safer

    When responding to the more than 1.2 million blazes reported annually, the nation’s firefighters usually start with a dangerous disadvantage: They often lack critical information — even something as basic as a floor plan — that could be vitally important in mounting the most effective and safest attack. That information gap could be erased with today’s communication, computing, sensor and networking technologies.

  • Search and rescueDrone center provided drones to survey flood damage, assist search and rescue efforts

    The town of Wimberley, about thirty miles southwest of Austin, was struck on 25 May by heavy flooding along the Blanco River. More than 400 homes were destroyed. Four deaths were reported in Hays County and at least eight persons were reported missing. Nineteen storm-related deaths were reported in Texas and Oklahoma and fourteen in Mexico. A test-site research team from the Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center of Excellence & Innovation (LSUASC) at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (TAMUCC) was dispatched to Wimberley, Texas, on 26 May to conduct low-altitude research flights in the wake of devastating flooding.

  • Public safety comm.NIST publishes first “roadmap” for public safety communications research

    NIST has published the first “roadmap” for the next twenty years of research needed to establish seamless, broadband public safety communications networks across the United States. The new roadmap, the first of a planned series on relevant technologies, focuses on location-based services to improve situational awareness for police, firefighters, emergency medical services, and other first responders. The roadmap was commissioned by NIST’s Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) program, which has been performing research, development, testing and evaluation, and creating standards to support first responder communications since 2002.

  • First response robotsRobots to the rescue in disaster situations

    Real-life disaster scenarios have awakened the robotics community to the limitations of existing emergency-response robots. EU-funded researchers are redoubling efforts to ensure that disaster response robots can better support rescue workers in future emergencies. Research in the lab and on-site simulations have helped in improving the capabilities of emergency-response robots in recent years. When real disaster strikes unexpected, however, complications lay bare the limitations of test scenarios. In light of the lessons learned following the Fukushima nuclear accident, researchers are following a range of different pathways to advance emergency-response robotics.

  • Domestic terrorismExercise simulates home-grown terrorists, nuclear incident

    In a geopolitical environment with proliferating threats, a Defense Department whole-of-government exercise held 5-8 May provided a realistic way for federal, state, and local experts to interact in simulated situations involving mock home-grown terrorists and a nuclear incident. This year’s Nuclear Weapon Accident Incident Exercise, or NUWAIX 2015, took place on Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor located on the Kitsap Peninsula in the state of Washington. The goal of the exercise was to coordinate the efforts of federal, state, and local agencies in mitigating the consequences of an incident involving a U.S. nuclear weapon in DoD custody at a military base in the continental United States.

  • RoboticsBomb squads compete at Sandia Labs’ Robot Rodeo

    Robots are life-saving tools for the nation’s hazardous device teams, providing a buffer between danger and first responders. Beginning this past Monday, Sandia Lab hosted its ninth annual Western National Robot Rodeo and Capability Exercise at Sandia National Laboratories. The five-day event – 11-15 May — offers a challenging platform for civilian and military bomb squad teams to practice defusing dangerous situations with robots’ help. 

  • Search & rescueFinal prototype of tool for spotting buried victims now commercially available

    The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), in partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory, last week announced the transition of the final prototype of the Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response (FINDER) technology to the commercial market. The technology proved successful during its first real-world operational use when it was deployed to Nepal following the 25 April earthquake to support international search and rescue efforts in the country.

  • FirefightingImproved structure firefighting glove commercially available

    When responding to structural fires, firefighters wear protective gloves known as “structure gloves” to shield their hands from burns and other injuries. Because structure gloves can be bulky and limit dexterity, firefighters often need to remove the gloves to complete routine tasks, such as handling operating tools or using communications equipment. Without gloves, firefighters’ hands are at a higher risk of injury. DHS S&T partnered with two companies to construct a new, improved structure glove that will provide the full range of protection firefighters need. This next-generation glove provides firefighters with enhanced dexterity, water repellency and fire resistance. The glove is now commercially available.