• More effective response to unpredictable disasters

    When the unthinkable happens and the unpredictable takes over, crises cannot be handled by the book. Traditional emergency work emphasizes fixed procedures and strong leadership, as is typically exemplified by the police force. This approach works in most emergency situations – but not when the unthinkable happens. Evaluations of past events show that the scale of many disasters could have been reduced if local decision-making power had been greater — that is, if the part of the team that was closest to the situation had been involved in a different way.

  • How disaster relief efforts could be improved with game theory

    The number of disasters has doubled globally since the 1980s, with the damage and losses estimated at an average $100 billion a year since the new millennium, and the number of people affected also growing. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was the costliest natural disaster in the U.S., with estimates between $100 billion and $125 billion. The death toll of Katrina is still being debated, but we know that at least 2,000 were killed, and thousands were left homeless. Worldwide, the toll is staggering. The challenges to disaster relief organizations, including nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), are immense, and the competition among them is intense. My team and I have been looking at a novel way to improve how we respond to natural disasters. One solution might be game theory.

  • New avalanche, snow burial practice guidelines

    With the growing popularity of backcountry snow activities, it is increasingly important to understand the best techniques for avalanche rescue. Each year, there are over 150 avalanche fatalities in the US and Europe, with most deaths occurring among recreational groups that include skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers, and mountaineers. The Wilderness Medical Society has issued new practice guidelines to help medical professionals, as well as the public, understand the latest techniques and recommendations for avalanche risk management and rescue protocols.

  • A new kind of responder brings special expertise to disasters

    An emergency response incident commander should be well-versed on how to respond to all hazards, including the intricacies of radiological and nuclear incidents. Because the hazards associated with radiological or nuclear (rad/nuc) incidents are uniquely challenging to convey accurately to first responders, DHS S&T has developed a solution in the form of the Radiological Operations Support Specialist (ROSS) Program.

  • Lawmakers want to know more about Ricin mix-up

    Members of the Committee on Homeland Security sent a letter on 23 December to FEMA administrator Craig Fugate, demanding answers on how many years had first responders unknowingly trained with toxic Ricin at Anniston’s Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP). In a three-page letter, members of the committee demanded answers for  twelve questions, addressing the issue of how lethal toxin was used and the agency’s response once it found out about the mix-up.

  • Thermal sensor provides warning for firefighter safety

    The conditions inside a burning building are perilous and can change rapidly. For firefighters searching for people trapped within a burning building, these risks can be exacerbated in a matter of seconds as exposure to high temperature may cause their personal protective equipment (PPE) to fail. This is particularly true in the presence of infrared radiation, which can rapidly increase the temperature of a firefighter’s environment without warning. DHS S&T  is now working with partners to develop the Burn Saver Thermal Sensor, a battery-powered device that will be carried by firefighters and detects thermal changes in their operating environments.

  • New incident management planning tool for first responders

    A suspicious package is found in a public park. An unattended bag is found by a trash can at the metro or a street corner. A person with a weapon is reported at a school or mall or other public location. Unfortunately, these are not uncommon occurrences, and responder agencies – from small towns to big cities – must all know how to respond and work together. That requires training, technology, tools, and time. The Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) Explosives Division (EXD) has a solution.

  • Firefighters to have bushfire predictions at the fingertips

    Researchers at the University of Western Australia are developing a new touchscreen device that can be mounted in a fire truck to help firefighters predict where and when a bushfire will spread. The researchers are modifying bushfire simulation software Australis into a high-end tablet to provide accurate predictions of fire behavior more rapidly than current methods.

  • Identifying, fast-tracking development of first responders technology

    First responders face challenging conditions while often carrying heavy and outdated equipment. Wearable technology is on the rise, estimated at a $10 billion dollar commercial market, and advances are happening in the health and fitness area every day. The first responder community stands to benefit from integrating some of this otherwise heavy and outdated equipment into wearable technology, improving both upon efficiencies and responsiveness as well as continuing to prioritize their own safety on the frontlines of often dangerous situations.

  • Game platform to help in preparing for strategic surprise

    National security challenges today are increasingly complex and multi-dimensional, demanding technological solutions that reflect the combined expertise of a broad diversity of professionals. But even when such experts are available and engaged, progress towards an integrated solution can be slowed by the lack of a versatile, domain-agnostic, collaborative platform, where innovation can happen not just despite but because of the disparate mix of participants’ perspectives and experiences. DARPA aims to link global experts from varied disciplines via gaming platform to speed the application of emerging science and technology.

  • How social media is energizing crisis response

    Natural disasters, such as the recent Hurricane Matthew in the Caribbean, present a huge challenge for governments, non-governmental organizations, and of course the individuals and communities affected. But studies of the effectiveness or otherwise of the responses to these disasters typically focus on official activities, producing a top-down view of what unfolded. Researchers studying the 2011 Thailand flooding disaster – the world’s fourth most severe natural disaster at that time instead looked at how individuals on the ground used social media to share information and offer support, often in areas where the official response was lacking or ineffective.

  • Using drones, insect biobots to map disaster areas

    Researchers have developed a combination of software and hardware that will allow them to use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and insect cyborgs, or biobots, to map large, unfamiliar areas – such as collapsed buildings after a disaster. “The idea would be to release a swarm of sensor-equipped biobots – such as remotely controlled cockroaches – into a collapsed building or other dangerous, unmapped area,” says one of the researchers.

  • Be Prepared: Canada engages youth in disaster resilience

    Large-scale natural disasters have been on the rise worldwide, and while the exact cause is unclear, there is something most scientists, policy-makers, and legislators can all agree with — the increasing global need to invest in disaster preparedness, prevention, and recovery. Canadian experts say they are constantly evaluating and improving Canada’s emergency preparedness and the most effective ways to keep people safe. But some experts are taking a different approach to disaster resiliency: they are engaging youth.

  • Harnessing science to help in emergency response

    Four years ago, communities across the East Coast faced Superstorm Sandy, a weather system that claimed more than seventy lives in the United States and caused $65 billion in damages. Earlier this month, Hurricane Matthew devastated Haiti, killing more than a thousand people before turning north to the United States, where it caused another forty-three deaths. The NSF and NOAA collaborate to provide the necessary tools to ensure people respond appropriately to dangerous weather systems.

  • Lessons learned in U.S.-Canada cross-border experiment

    DHS S&T First Responders Group (FRG) and Canadian partners held the CAUSE IV experiment on the Michigan-Ontario border. The two territories are connected by the Blue Water Bridge spanning the St. Clair River, which is the second-busiest transit point between the United States and Canada. The goal of the CAUSE experiment series is to stage emergency scenarios to prepare first responders and communities on both sides of the U.S./Canada border for a potential natural or manmade disaster.