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‘‘Technology for Life’’ in USaR Operations

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Developing ‘‘Technology for Life’’ in Urban Search and Rescue Operations: Need for a multidisciplinary approach for achieving results

A position article

by Milt Statheropoulos


SGL for USaR project Coordinator

( www. )


Urban Search and Rescue (USaR) operations have mostly to do with searching and extricating victims in collapsed buildings or structures from earthquakes, explosions and technical failures. Initiatives are known at National and International levels aiming at improving, enhancing and optimizing USaR procedures and risk analysis; the basic approach has been that of using existing technologies to optimize procedures.

The following items are  common  in the agenda of organizations and authorities regarding USaR efforts: building teams and capacities, improving training, increasing the types and complexity of exercises, creating rescue teams that can be dispatched in  international missions, improving time of deployment, enhancing ground and air transportation and  equipped  with better mechanical tools.

All these efforts have definitely resulted in increasing preparedness, co-ordination and  co-operation among different national teams, improving the logistics of operations, optimizing  mobilization and  deployment, in better information flow to the mass media, in improving medical care of the victims and having better control of the event.

However, one bottleneck of the operations (the second been the extrication of the victims) that of early location of the victims has not really been improved. Due to the complexity of the collapsed buildings and the different types of collapses  significant technology challenges exist in searching in a collapsed building for survivors; not to mention searching for dead bodies which is a social and ethical necessity.

Technology for Urban Search and Rescue operations, ‘‘Technology for life’’, needs to be characterized by the integration of different systems and devices such as communications and information systems,  field chemical systems for hazards detection, audio and video devices for searching trapped people and command and control platforms.  The integration involves a multidisciplinary effort with the scope of merging the different systems together. A multidisciplinary approach is a challenging approach especially in  R&D for Technology for Life. This approach  entails instead of running independent research in each discipline, to realign the R&D  lines in smaller numbers; as  a result the focus is not on  what  each discipline is doing separately but what each new R&D line is doing on mission oriented-type achievement.

One characteristic example of such a challenging integration is  that of integrating field chemical detection with audio and  video devices for locating life signs and hazardous conditions. Many different disciplines such as chemical analysis, engineering, optics, sound analysis, image analysis, data fusion, software development and communications need to be successfully realigned in new research lines that will merge different disciplines for having results.

However adopting a multidisciplinary approach in developing Technology for Life needs reconsidering issues such as training of researchers, cooperation with end users, educating decision makers and persuading funding mechanisms.

To address these challenges a number of questions have to be defined and answered:

  • Will new ideas for Technology for Life come from exclusively the operational people or from academics or from the cooperation of both?
  • What is the practical and effective platform for those completely different entities (researchers and rescuers) for meeting and work together?
  • Is it a good idea to develop products in the research lab and then try to demonstrate them to the field?
  • How new Technologies for Life can be integrated in existing  operational procedures?
  • How one can   identify the technology gaps?
  • What practical and legislative problems exist for testing proof-of-concept prototypes in training fields?
  • What arrangements need to be done for having demonstrations of New Technologies for Life visible to as many and different  rescue teams?
  • How can you collect unbiased input during a demonstration?
  • Will a handbook of new systems improve technology dissemination and application?
  • Who should be responsible to write it?
  • Who and with what standards will validate new multidisciplinary technologies?
  • Who will finance multidisciplinary projects for Technology for Life systems?
  • What is the best way of managing the multidisciplinary projects?
  • How multidisciplinary ideas can be turned in research projects and more important how they can be evaluated?

The questions of this position article should not be considered as definitive. However they can fuel a discussion for getting answers.



Crisis Management Coordination

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Generally in any given Urban Security System, its success depends heavily on the coordination and integration of all of its components.

Integration and Coordination are complementary approaches to the common goal of creating an organic system for urban security.

One can say that in integration, components of the system are fused into a single organization under a single command, where in coordination, different independent components, such as entities in the public and private sectors, are connected by compacts and other agreements to operate in unison and share resources towards their common objective.

Urban Search and Rescue current operational models draw their methodology from voluntary, humanitarian and heterogeneous civil and military  communities working together to save lives and minimize safety risks. It's therefore of common acceptance that operational integration is not easily accomplished or maybe not even desired, but coordination should be very high on the operational wish-list.

This a conclusion that is often made upon analysis of Urban Search and Rescue Operations

With this is mind, organization of systems involved in emergency response may vary from city to city and from country to country but in any case a command and control model where those systems can be articulated should improve the efficiency of these operations. An important question that presents itself is on where the decision making resides and how the top decision makers coordinate responses, specifically how these persons articulate efforts encompassing city governments (mayors), hospitals, media, first responders and emergency managers.

The components for these emergency architecture can be:

  • integrated command and control;
  • integration and/or interoperability of telecommunication systems;
  • coordination of different resources;
  • coordination of different administrative jurisdictions;
  • local coordination of emergency workers;
  • public awareness;
  • identification of risks;

In this article we want to emphasize on the Command and Control Center as a privileged place for creating or collaborating on the realization of what can be called a shared awareness.

There are different classes of Command and Control Center - Strategic, Tactical and Operational - that have different goals and priorities. But we want to focus on the Operational type of Command and Control Center, the type that is deployed on the field and is mostly focused on directly enabling first responders to perform their tasks securely and efficiently. Notwithstanding these goals that are of paramount importance, it can perhaps be envisioned that this is also a place and a component of the overall emergency response architecture that is in an ideal place to enact important coordination features.

This type of Command and Control Center may be placed ideally to perform the first critical integration segment. From sensors to intelligence the opportunities for efficient articulation are numerous.

A shared awareness capability at this level could be comprised of:

  • Although secure, accessible from anywhere without dependencies on local infrastructure that might not be up anyway;
  • An entry point for voice communications between strategic or tactical decision makers and operational people in the field;
  • An enabler of online virtual meetings with a possibility to view  a map-based situation evolving in real-time;
  • An interface for disseminating different type of information, to hospitals and media for instance;

It seems likely that such a Command and Control Center could help not only improve the work of first responders, but also the coordination of the full set of operations as a whole.

We would like to know more of the different perspectives that different operational groups may have that could be orchestrated in a single platform that can be useful and empowering for all and obstacle for none.



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