First response

  • Connecticut mulls regional 911 authority

    Connecticut House Bill 5531, if passed, would authorize the towns of East Lyme, New London, and Waterford to establish a municipal body to operate all 911 call centers in region. Creating a unified authority will allow for more efficient dispatch operations, reduce operating cost among the three towns, and will also equalize the towns’ liability should a lawsuit stem from a 911 call response. Critics disagree.

  • Predicting sliding mountain slopes

    If entire mountain slopes start to slide, danger threatens. It is not always easy to predict and monitor these mass movements. In an international project, scientists combined numerical models with microwave radar systems in Northern Tyrol — with promising results. The Steinlehnen slope in Northern Tyrol (Austria) started to move in 2003. Rockfalls threatened people, streets, and buildings. Meanwhile, peace has returned; although the slope is merely “creeping,” Steinlehnen has become an interesting research object for scientists in recent years.

  • App helps save people trapped by avalanche

    For the person buried under the weight of an avalanche, each minute is precious. A person saved from the snow mass within fifteen minutes has a 90 percent chance of survival. After forty-five minutes that chance has diminished considerably. Researchers develop an app that makes it possible for skiers with smartphones to find people buried in the snow.

  • Faster anthrax detection could speed bioterror response

    The fall 2011 anthrax attacks cost $3.2 million in cleanup and decontamination. At the time, no testing system was in place that officials could use to screen the letters. Currently, first responders have tests that can provide a screen for dangerous materials in about 24-48 hours. Now, researchers have developed a new method for anthrax detection that can identify anthrax in only a few hours.

  • Building a lie detector for social media

    In our digital age, rumors — both true and false — spread fast, often with far-reaching consequences. The ability quickly to verify information spread on the Internet and track its provenance would enable governments, emergency services, health agencies, and the private sector to respond more effectively.

  • Torrential rain, hurricane-force winds, floods continue to batter U.K.

    Torrential rains, floods, and winds with speeds reaching 108 mph continue to batter south and west U.K., causing massive disruptions to power supply and road and rail transportation. Britain is enjoying a short respite today (Thursday), but meteorologists warned people to brace themselves for more chaos as another storm brings heavy rain, strong winds, and more risk of flooding on Friday and into the weekend. Severe flood warnings, indicating danger to life, remain in place in Berkshire, Surrey, and Somerset, where hundreds of homes have been evacuated.

  • Smartphones to help find avalanche victims

    Not a winter goes by without an avalanche incident. In the search for those buried beneath the snow, every second counts. On average, rescuers have fifteen minutes to recover victims alive. This is why an avalanche transceiver is an essential piece of kit for anyone spending significant time off-piste. These transceivers do not come cheap, however, ranging in price from 200 and over 500 euros — perhaps one reason why many walkers and skiers still do not carry one with them. Now smartphones equipped with functions of an avalanche transceiver should help locate the victims quickly.

  • Know when to go: a new way to keep firefighters safe from harm

    For a firefighter, knowing when it’s time to evacuate can be the difference between life and death. But that can be a difficult call to make when you’re trying to protect life, property and resources while battling wildfires in arduous weather and terrain. Whether working at the fire’s edge or creating a fire break far from the front, firefighters must maintain situational awareness and monitor impending threats to their safety. When firefighters are unable to properly recognize risks, or they underestimate conditions, the results can be tragic.

  • Autonomous drones to help in search and rescue, disaster relief

    Research could soon enable unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to track down missing persons on search-and-rescue missions, to penetrate curtains of smoke during wildfire suppression, or possibly even to navigate urban landscapes on delivery runs for online retailers like Amazon. It all could be done autonomously with a human acting only as a supervisor. “Drones have gotten a very bad rap for various reasons,” says Kelly Cohen, associate professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics at the University of Cincinnati. “But our students see that unmanned systems can have a positive impact on society.”

  • Carbon nanotubes improve flame-resistant coating

    Using an approach akin to assembling a club sandwich at the nanoscale, researchers have succeeded in crafting a uniform, multi-walled carbon-nanotube-based coating that greatly reduces the flammability of foam commonly used in upholstered furniture and other soft furnishings. In tests, the flammability of the nanotube-coated polyurethane foam was reduced 35 percent compared with untreated foam. As important, the coating prevented melting and pooling of the foam, which generates additional flames that are a major contributor to the spread of fires.

  • Robots compete in performing emergency response task

    Sixteen robots participating in the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials last month performed such tasks as opening doors or climbing a ladder, all tasks aimed to speed the development of robots that could one day perform a number of critical, real-world, emergency response tasks at natural and human-made disaster sites. While most of the entries were engineered to resemble humanoids with two legs, JPL’s RoboSimian tackled tasks like climbing over rough terrain on all four of its limbs.

  • U.S. disaster preparedness threatened by funding problems

    The 9/11 attacks in New York City prompted large increases in government funding to help communities respond and recover after man-made and natural disasters. This funding, however, has fallen considerably since the economic crisis in 2008. Furthermore, disaster funding distribution is deeply inefficient: huge cash infusions are disbursed right after a disaster, only to fall abruptly after interest wanes. These issues have exposed significant problems with our nation’s preparedness for public health emergencies. Researchers list seven recommendations to enhance preparedness for public health emergencies in the U.S.

  • Eight teams heading to DARPA Robotics Challenge finals

    Two weeks ago, on 20-21 December 2013, sixteen teams were the main attraction at the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Trials, where they demonstrated their prototype robots’ ability to perform a number of critical real-world disaster-response skills. After two days of competition, the agency selected eight teams to receive up to $1 million in funding to continue their work and prepare for upcoming DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Finals.

  • Elbit Systems’ subsidiary to provide secure broadband mobile solution for first responders

    DHS Science & Technology Directorate (S&T) has selected Elbit Systems of America, a wholly owned subsidiary of Elbit Systems, to provide a technology demonstrator for a secure broadband services solution for first responders. DHS will use this solution to test the new LTE broadband network with various mission critical secure multimedia services for public safety users. Following the integration and proof of concept phase, DHS will proceed with field tests within selected homeland security components.

  • Measures being offered to reduce mass shootings not likely to succeed

    Criminologists debunk eleven common myths which dominate the discussion about how to put an end to, or at least reduce, the number and scope of mass shooting. They argue that the measures typically offered to deal with the problem — widening the availability of mental-health services, enhanced background checks, having armed guards at schools, censoring violent entertainment, especially video games, and more – would, at best, merely take a nibble out of the risk of mass murder. Even reducing mass shooting marginally would be a worthy goal, but “eliminating the risk of mass murder would involve extreme steps that we are unable or unwilling to take — abolishing the Second Amendment, achieving full employment, restoring our sense of community, and rounding up anyone who looks or acts at all suspicious. Mass murder just may be a price we must pay for living in a society where personal freedom is so highly valued,” they write.