• Disaster communications: Lessons from 9/11

    What we and the other responders learned on 9/11, under the pressure of a disaster of incredible scale, scope and urgency – not to mention the international media spotlight – went on to spark major changes in U.S. emergency response communication. By ensuring that – no matter what happens – we can communicate with each other, the emergency response community keeps the memory of 9/11 alive in our own way every single day.

  • Command under attack: What we’ve learned since 9/11 about managing crises

    Major disasters pose difficult challenges for responders on the ground and for higher-level officials trying to direct operations. Some events are novel because of their scale, while others involve challenges that no one may ever have envisioned. Communities need to bring their response agencies together regularly to plan and practice. This can develop and maintain knowledge and relationships that will enable them to work together effectively under the high stress of a future attack or disaster. Any community can do this, but many have not. Where training and practice have taken place, these tools have worked. They can be improved, but the most important priority is getting more communities to practice using them more regularly, before the next disaster. One important way this nation can honor the victims of 9/11 is by using these lessons to create the conditions for even better coordination in future events.

  • Tsunami evacuation plans: A case study in Alameda, California

    Tsunami evacuation planning in coastal communities is typically based on maximum evacuation zones that reflect a combination of all potential extreme tsunamis. However, in the case of a smaller tsunami, this approach may result in more people being evacuated than need to be, and in doing so, may overly disrupt the local economy, and strain resources needed during emergency response. Evacuations are intended to keep a population safe and reduce losses, but what are the costs of lost work and wages, or accidental injuries that may occur during an evacuation?

  • Tackling rumors during crises

    The proliferation of rumors during a crisis can hinder efforts by emergency personnel trying to establish facts. That is why a doctoral student at BGU’s Department of Emergency Medicine has developed a methodology for tracking rumors and guidelines for how to control them.

  • The building evacuation needs of the mobility impaired

    A fire alarm sounds. An announcement comes over the office public address system: “A fire has been reported in the building. This is not a drill. Please move to the nearest stairwell and exit the building.” As your colleagues leave their desks, you loosen the wheel locks on your wheelchair and wonder, “Will I be able to get out of the building?” This scenario is among the most common concerns reported in a new study detailing the challenges faced by people with mobility impairments during emergency evacuation from multistory buildings.

  • Louisiana’s Cajun Navy shines light on growing value of boat rescuers

    As we look at the devastating losses suffered by Louisiana communities from the recent flooding, one of the inspiring aspects to emerge from the disaster are the reports of the “Cajun Navy” – everyday residents in their boats checking on and rescuing family, friends, neighbors and even strangers in need. The efforts of the Cajun Navy, however, are not unusual. Indeed, one consolation of the disaster is the extent to which the informal responses by survivors bolster stressed and overburdened formal response systems. We must continue to learn the right lessons from disaster: that there is value of both planning and improvisation in disaster. That although citizens might sometimes make mistakes, they also enable the greatest of responses. That successful disaster response, in part, depends on a willingness of formal responders to acknowledge the capacities of our citizenry, be they mariners or farmers, welders or educators, or something else entirely.

  • When disaster-response apps fail

    When a terrorist struck Nice, France, on 14 July, a new French government app designed to alert people failed. Three hours passed before SAIP, as the app is called, warned people in and around Nice to the danger on the city’s waterfront during Bastille Day festivities. This aspect of the tragedy highlights an emerging element of disaster preparation and response: the potential for smartphone apps, social media sites, and information technology more broadly to assist both emergency responders and the public at large in figuring out what is happening and what to do about it. Sadly, disasters will keep occurring. But the future is bright for improved communication when they happen. It’s even possible that someday smartphones may be able to monitor the environment automatically and contribute to disaster alert systems on their own.

  • NIST’s rolling wireless net improves first-responder communications

    First responders often have trouble communicating with each other in emergencies. They may use different types of radios, or they may be working in rural areas lacking wireless coverage, or they may be deep inside large buildings that block connections. NIST has worked with industry partners to integrate commercial technologies into a mobile wireless communications system. About the size of a large file cabinet, the platform offers more capabilities and faster setup than typical “cell on wheels” systems.

  • NICS, a communication platform for first responders, now available

    DHS S&T has announced the Next-Generation Incident Command System (NICS,) an information sharing tool for first responders, is now available worldwide. NICS is a mobile, Web-based communication platform that enables responders on scene at a developing incident to request and receive assistance from remote experts — and experts can observe an evolving situation and volunteer relevant material or resources.

  • “Liquid fingerprinting” technique identifies unknown liquids instantly

    A new company — Validere — will commercialize sensing technology invented at Harvard University that can perform instant, in-field characterization of the chemical make-up and material properties of unknown liquids. Validere aims to develop the licensed technology, called Watermark Ink (W-INK), into a pocket-sized device that could be used by first responders to quickly identify chemical spills, or by officials to verify the fuel grade of gasoline right at the pump.

  • Public safety consolidation works well for some communities, but not for others

    In the first comprehensive work of its kind, a Michigan State University criminologist has completed a study on the implementation and outcomes of public safety consolidation — the merging of a city’s police and fire departments. The study finds that while public safety consolidation can work well for some communities, it is not the best solution for others.

  • Swimming, crawling, climbing robot to help in security, search & rescue missions

    Researchers have developed the first single actuator wave-like robot (SAW). SAW can climb over obstacles or crawl through unstable terrain like sand, grass, and gravel, reaching a top speed of 22.5 inches. The robot will be useful for traveling through the intestine for imaging and biopsies, and for infiltrating problematic, complex security areas, such as tunnels, destroyed buildings, and pipes.

  • Hazmat Challenge tests skills of hazardous materials response teams

    Ten hazardous materials response teams from New Mexico, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Nebraska test their skills in a series of graded, timed exercises. The event requires participants to respond to simulated hazardous materials emergencies involving aircraft, rail and highway transportation, industrial piping, a simulated radiological release, and a confined space event.

  • DHS S&T demonstrates integration of first responder technologies

    More ruggedized protective equipment. Reliable and interoperable communications. The capability to filter vast amounts of data. These are all things DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) Next Generation First Responder (NGFR) program envisions  to ensure future first responder are better protected, connected, and fully aware.

  • Lessons learned from the U.S.-Canada cross-border experiment

    A tornado has just devastated a community on the border between the United States and Canada. Paramedics scramble to bring patients from over-crowded hospitals across the border. Communication blackouts and downed trees force ambulances to weave their way through blowing debris, fallen electrical lines, and car wrecks. The time for a routine trip from the injury site to the hospital has now tripled. While this did not really happen, it was the focus in April when the DHS S&T and several Canadian government agencies collaborated on a cross-border experiment with a focus on preparing emergency responders for this type of scenario.