• 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.

  • DHS S&T announces 10 start-ups for first responder technology innovation

    DHS S&T has announced the selection of ten startup companies to be part of EMERGE 2016: Wearable Technology, a program designed to bring startups, accelerators, and other strategic partners together in a common research and development effort. The program is focused on wearable technology that can be modified specifically for first responders.

  • FCC updates, strengthens Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA)

    The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) two weeks ago adopted rules to update and strengthen Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), a system that delivers critical warnings and information to Americans on their wireless phones. The updated rules are intended to promote the wider use and effectiveness of this lifesaving service, especially for state and local authorities to convey important information to their communities.

  • Cleaning concrete contaminated with chemicals

    In March 1995, members of a Japanese cult released the deadly nerve agent sarin into the Tokyo subway system, killing a dozen people and injuring a thousand more. This leads to the question: What if a U.S. transportation hub was contaminated with a chemical agent? The hub might be shut down for weeks, which could have a substantial economic impact. Craig Tenney, a chemical engineer at Sandia National Laboratories, is looking for better ways to clean contaminated concrete to reduce that impact.

  • Low-cost security imaging device uses inexpensive radio components

    Currently, scanning devices that detect hidden weapons or contraband in airports rely on millimeter-wave cameras, which can cost more than $175,000. The cost of the technology is a significant limiting factor in determining where, and whether, to use these scanners. Researchers have used computer models to demonstrate the viability of a low-cost security imaging device that makes use of inexpensive radio components.

  • New alert system aims to protect responders, drivers at roadway incident scenes

    Whether distracted by the latest cell phone game, driving while intoxicated, driving carelessly, or in low-visibility scenarios, the trend of first responder roadside strikes unfortunately looks likely to continue. DHS S&T has chosen Applied Research Associates, Inc. of Albuquerque, New Mexico, to develop technology that aims to reduce dangerous vehicle strikes on first responders. The project will integrate several existing technologies into a system that can be easily deployed.

  • TEEX Center awarded $22 million through DHS national training program

    The Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) announced it will receive $22 million in federal funding for its National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center (NERRTC), which provides specialized homeland security and disaster preparedness training nationwide. Since it was established in 1998, NERRTC has enhanced preparedness by training more than 560,000 emergency responders, senior officials, public works staff, and medical personnel through delivery of more than 13,000 courses to state, local, tribal, and territorial jurisdictions.

  • X-ray vision: Bomb technicians strengthen their hand with Sandia’s XTK software

    X-Ray Toolkit (XTK), an image-processing and analysis software developed at Sandia National Laboratories, has been adopted by the military and emergency response communities in the United States and around he world. “XTK is the standard in the field not only nationally, but internationally. It made the average bomb tech a better bomb tech,” said Craig Greene, a special agent and bomb technician at the Albuquerque, New Mexico FBI. “In the past twenty years, the bomb technician community has progressed from the Stone Age to the twenty-first century in terms of equipment and procedures, and XTK is a major part of that progression.”

  • What causes mass panic in emergency situations?

    In emergency situations such as terrorist attacks, natural catastrophes, and fires, there is always a risk of mass panic leading to deadly crowd disasters. But what causes mass panic and where are the danger zones? Because these questions are difficult to study in the real world, researchers exposed experiment participants to an emergency in a three-dimensional virtual environment.

  • 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.