First response

  • 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.

  • Improved fire detection with new ultra-sensitive, ultraviolet light sensor

    Currently, photoelectric smoke sensors detect larger smoke particles found in dense smoke, but are not as sensitive to small particles of smoke from rapidly burning fires. Researchers have discovered that a material traditionally used in ceramics, glass and paint can be manipulated to produce an ultra-sensitive UV light sensor, paving the way for improved fire and gas detection.

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  • Los Alamos leads collaborative effort of explosives detection innovation, education

    The Los Alamos National Laboratory is leading a collaboration of strategic public and private partners focused on the innovations in and education about explosives detection technologies. The Los Alamos Collaboration for Explosives Detection (LACED) site serves as a virtual gateway to world-class expertise and capabilities designed to counter all types of explosives threats, predominantly through enhanced detection capabilities. The site went public online in January and is beginning to attract attention among specialty audiences.

  • Before-and-after aerial imagery of infrastructure to help first responders

    When disaster strikes, it is important for responders and emergency officials to know what critical infrastructure has been damaged so they can direct supplies and resources accordingly. Researchers are developing a program that uses before-and-after aerial imagery to reveal infrastructure damage in a matter of minutes.

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  • A first: Engineering students design firefighting humanoid robot

    In fall 2014 in Mobile Bay, Alabama, Virginia Tech engineering students made history during a five-minute demo that placed an adult-sized humanoid robot with a hose in front of a live fire aboard a U.S. Navy ship. The robot located the fire and sprayed water from the hose. Water blasted the flames. The demo, four years in the making, is part of a new effort by the U.S. Navy better to assist sailors in fighting fires, controlling damage, and carrying out inspections aboard ships via user-controlled unmanned craft or humanoid robots.

  • Faster first aid for catastrophe victims

    In mass casualty incidents, triage of the victims must be performed as quickly as possible, in order to evacuate and take them to appropriate hospitals. Today, first responders use colored paper tags to classify victims. Researchers have developed an electronic gadget that may replace the colored paper tags in a triage. Beyond just visually tagging a victim, the device transmits, in real time, the victim’s location and vital data, for example, heart rate, respiratory rate, and oxygen saturation, to emergency response control centers.

  • Modeling study reveals the lethal dynamics of a San Francisco house fire

    A new computer-based fire-dynamics study by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has helped to clarify the circumstances and violent fire behavior of a lethal 2011 blaze in a San Francisco hillside home. The fire in the multi-story, single-family dwelling claimed the lives of two firefighters.

  • Drawing disaster response lessons by comparing quake responses

    Following the devastating 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake which hit the Tohoku region of Japan, many local and provincial governments rushed to aid the people in the area with personnel and materials, providing important relief in a time of crisis. At a recent symposium, some were comparing the response to the 2011 disaster to the response to the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995 in order to draw lessons and offer guidelines in effective crisis management.

  • DHS S&T makes it easier and cheaper for first responders to communicate

    A new low-cost interoperability solution developed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) could save the first responder community millions of dollars.

    S&T says that the Radio Internet Protocol Communications Module (RIC-M), used by local, state, and federal responders, is a low-cost, external, stand-alone, interface device that connects radio frequency (RF) system base stations, consoles and other RF equipment — regardless of brand — over the Internet or Private Internet Protocol (IP) network.

  • Realistic radiation detection training without using radioactive materials

    Training of first responders on the hazards of actual radiological and nuclear threats has been challenged by the difficulties of adequately representing those threats. Training against such threats would involve using hazardous, highly radioactive materials, experiencing actual radiation doses in training, or require the distribution of radioactive material over a large geographical area. To avoid these issues in exercises to train responders, surrogate radioactive materials have been used, but these materials do not completely represent real threats due to their non-hazardous size and inability to be geographically distributed. Researchers have solved the problem by developing a new technology that provides realistic radiation detection training by directly injecting simulated radiation signals into the analog amplifier of the real detectors used by first responders and inspectors.

  • Mobile app helps first responders choose the right biodetection technology

    First responders have downloaded more than 10,000 copies of a guide to commercially available, hand-portable biodetection technologies created to help them determine what they might be up against in the field. Since many first responders do not always have immediate access to a computer, a mobile version of the guide is now available for cell phones and tablets. An updated version of the guide has just been released to help response organizations make informed decisions when procuring the right technology for their particular needs and circumstances.

  • Nanomaterial proves to be a better flame retardant than chemical alternative

    In a face-off between two promising flame retardants, the challenger — a nanomaterial that maintains a positive façade while sheltering a negative interior — outperformed its chemical antithesis. This material already is a leading candidate for environmentally friendly fire-resistant coatings on furniture foam.

  • Washington State seeks better responses to landslides

    The March 2014 Oso landslide in Snohomish County, Washington State, killed forty-three people. A state commission, including experts in emergency management, land planning and development, geology, and hydrology, appointed by Washington state governor Jay Inslee to determine how better to avoid and respond to landslides released seventeen recommendations on last Monday.