First response

  • Bomb 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. 

  • Final 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.

  • Improved 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.

  • Researchers make “bio-inspired” flame retardants in a jiffy

    Furniture fires are the leading cause of casualties in house fires. In 2013, they accounted for about 30 percent of more than 2,700 deaths in residential fires. After devising several new and promising “green” flame retardants for furniture padding, NIST researchers took a trip to the grocery store and cooked up their best fire-resistant coatings yet.

  • What works and doesn’t in disaster health response

    On Saturday, 24 April 2015, a major (Magnitude 7.8) earthquake hit Nepal shortly after midday. At the moment, the most important question is how can the global community best respond? What can and what should international relief teams be prepared to do when responding to such an event? Research provides some well-documented evidence that many international health-oriented responses are poorly targeted and may be influenced by objectives that play well on the home front rather than what’s needed on the ground. As we respond to Nepal’s earthquake, and as we look forward to the next international earthquake responses, let us take into account what we have learned from past experiences, and, in coordination with our local hosts, provide the kinds of health assistance that are most likely to meet the needs of the people affected.

  • Washington State county considering levy to fund new emergency-radio network

    Voters in King County, Washington, which includes Seattle, will be asked in a special 28 April election to approve a levy for a new emergency-radio network to expand coverage throughout the county and replace outdated equipment used by police, fire, medical, and other emergency personnel. The levywould raise $246 million over nine years and cost $0.07 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation beginning in 2016. The levy proposed would increase the number of transmission towers from twenty-six to forty-six and replace 19,000 radios and 117 dispatch consoles.

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  • San Antonio emergency teams train for worst scenarios

    Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) in San Antonio, the sixth largest city in the United States, are worried that the large population and size of the metropolis could pose a major problem in an emergency situation. The area is already at risk of tornadoes and fires, but teams have recently completed training for a wide variety of imaginable scenarios. In training, participants learn plans and functions for traffic direction, logistical assistance, and search and rescue.

  • Former Israeli PM Ehud Barak invests $1 million in emergency reporting app developer

    Israeli start-up Reporty Homeland Security has raised $1 million from former prime minister and minister of defense Ehud Barak. The company’s technology aims to streamline communication between citizen and government agencies at the same time that it protects the user’s privacy. The company’s application establishes a two-way video and audio connection to the emergency help center, transmitting information which gives the precise location of the person making the report and allowing for an evaluation of the incident report’s credibility.

  • L.A.’s emergency communication system facing many hurdles

    After the 9/11 attacks, the federal government encouraged authorities in large cities to build emergency communications systems that would allow separate agencies to coordinate together quickly and efficiently. The government offered grants to help pay some of the costs of the systems, pending completion of the work by a set deadline. In Los Angeles County, a common communications system is still not a reality years after officials signed up for the federal program. Besides technological hurdles, contracting issues, and constantly changing requirements from the federal government, Los Angeles County is having to deal with firefighters and residents who object the plan citing health and property value concerns with the placement of giant cell towers in their neighborhoods.

  • Fighting fires with low-frequency sound waves

    A thumping bass may do more than light up a party — it could flat out extinguish it, thanks to a new sound-blasting fire extinguisher by George Mason University undergrads. The fire extinguisher uses low-frequency sound waves to douse a blaze. Their sound-wave device is free of toxic chemicals and eliminates collateral damage from sprinkler systems. If mounted on drones, it could improve safety for firefighters confronting large forest fires or urban blazes.

  • Tethered robots to be the “eyes” of firefighters in “blind” conditions

    Researchers have developed revolutionary reins which enable robots to act like guide dogs, which could enable that firefighters moving through smoke-filled buildings could save vital seconds and find it easier to identify objects and obstacles. The small mobile robot — equipped with tactile sensors — would lead the way, with the firefighter following a meter or so behind holding a rein. The robot would help the firefighter move swiftly in “blind” conditions, while vibrations sent back through the rein would provide data about the size, shape and even the stiffness of any object the robot finds.

  • Prize competition for tracking first responders indoors

    The Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) yesterday announced the Department’s first crowdsourced prize competition in support of the first responder community. The Indoor Tracking of the Next Generation First Responder prize competition seeks innovative ideas for solving the challenges of real-time, accurate indoor tracking of first responders during an incident. S&T says it is looking for innovate solutions that will help first responders with basic questions such as “where am I?” and “where is my team?”

  • Applying life-saving lessons from past train derailments

    Firefighters and first responders who were called two weeks ago to an oil train derailment near Mount Carbon, West Virginia applied life-saving lessons learned from a rail disaster which occurred thirty-seven years ago. When the CSX train derailed near Mount Carbon last month, local firefighters could have sprayed water and foam on the fire from the explosion, but instead they evacuated residents, maintained a safe distance, and let the fire run its course — which took four days. Choosing not to put the fire out with water likely prevented contamination of the Kanawha River, a local source of drinking water.

  • Social media help alert students during campus emergencies: Study

    Using social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to spread information during campus emergencies can help keep students safer, according to new research. The study found the widespread popularity of social media and associated mobile apps enables campus authorities to instantly reach a large percentage of students to provide timely and accurate information during crisis situations.

  • Redesigning wild-land fire fighter uniforms

    The most common cause of injuries to wild-land firefighters is not burns. When leaders at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) noticed their wild-land firefighters were experiencing more heat stress injuries — like heat exhaustion and heat stroke — than burn injuries, they wanted to know why and how to prevent them. They soon realized their uniforms were part of the problem. Working with a team at the University of California, Davis, they developed technical and design specifications for a new uniform aimed at increasing the comfort and breathability while maintaining the current level of protection against flames. In 2011, CAL FIRE approached the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate’s (S&T) First Responders Group (FRG) requesting assistance in developing prototype garments.