During the week of May 3, 2004, NASA Ames Research Center's (ARC) Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (DART) conducted its fifteenth annual collapsed structure rescue workshop. The workshop is an ongoing collaborative effort between individuals from all over the United States that share a common interest and goal. The interest is emergency responder methodology, particularly that for urban search and rescue US&R). The goal is to share knowledge and expertise, and to develop and improve techniques and tools used in US&R. Past workshops were six days and approximately 70 hours long. Instructors and participants come from all over the country and represent some of the Nation's finest US&R teams. As in the past, the workshop was conducted at the NASA Ames Collapsed Structure Rescue Training Facility.
The workshop was sponsored by ARC with considerable support from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue at the University of South Florida (CRASAR). This workshop was significantly different from those held in the past. It was conducted over a six-day period and it had a heavy emphasis on technology development for the emergency responder. In addition to the 60 plus emergency responders that participated, the workshop included over sixty technologists. This was a rare opportunity for technologists to learn how to refine or modify existing technologies to meet the specific needs of emergency responders working directly with the responders in realistic emergency response settings. Special emphasis was put on rescue in collapsed structure scenarios with extremely strenuous problems and long hours.
Among the technologies tested were technologies were: robotics, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), biosensors, environmental sensors, hazardous material sensors, responder tracking devices, concrete penetration devices, responder health monitoring systems, victim-locating systems, and data and communication management systems.
The workshop provided an opportunity for invited observers to witness and for technologists to experience first-hand what rescue specialists think and feel when they work in a collapsed structure. Rather than imagining the oppressive feeling of crawling through a tiny tunnel carved through twisted concrete and steel or guessing what it's like for a responder to not know if the next space he or she enters will have enough oxygen left to keep him or her alive the technologists were able to experience it first hand. How could a non-responder understand what it's like for a search and rescue specialist to breach another wall only to be disappointed in not finding a live victim? Dealing with these thoughts and feelings, and staying focused on the task at hand, are issues rescue specialists must face when working in a collapsed structure. The workshop gave non-responders a rare look into the world of collapsed structure rescue. It gave technologists a real appreciation for the needs of the first responder.
The ARC DART team maintains a collapsed structure facility that is uniquely suited for test of a wide range of technologies. The facility underwent considerable upgrades to prepare for the workshop. The site now includes a large concrete rubble pile with built-in voids and rooms, a simulated concrete collapsed structure with numerous digital video cameras, a 30-foot-long twin-engine aircraft, a railroad tanker car, and large concrete loads for lifting and moving. Other features include a hazardous materials field training facility, high-angle rescue training towers, and confined-space and trench-rescue training props.
Participating emergency responders include representatives from California Task Force 3, California Task Force 7, NASA DART, NASA JPL ERT, North Carolina Task Force 1, Virginia Task Force 2, Fort Lewis Fire and Emergency Services, Florida Task Force 3, Indian Task Force 1, FEMA Region IX, and Army EOD.
Participating technologists included representatives from ARC, JPL, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the University of California, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), Stanford University, CRASAR, the Clark University UAV Applications Center, Lockheed-Martin, and several small companies including Tri-Sentinel Inc., PureSense, and Flying-Cam.