Operation Practice: Search and Rescue, UAVs Team Up

From KSAL Link

By Natalie Blair

SALINA, Kan. — A tornado had demolished a small town 10 miles southeast of Salina, Kan. Hundreds of people were missing; trapped in vehicles, buildings, and piles of rubble, thrown into trees and onto surrounding structures. Hazardous material was leaking from a building in the center of town.

The sounds of saws tearing through concrete and metal filled the air as search and rescue teams from around the state came together to begin the process of locating and saving their friends, neighbors, and total strangers – working as a team alongside a firefighter they had never met from a squad 200 miles from their own station.

Men protected by HazMat suits worked on the best strategy to determine the location and chemical makeup of the threat they had to neutralize. Another team conducted a wide-area search to look for victims that may have been carried into the nearby countryside, the weight of the mud caking their boots making each step of their 6-mile trek a little more difficult than the one before. The K-9 unit helped with the search, notifying their handlers when they caught a scent.

Meanwhile, an unmanned aircraft system soared overhead, providing valuable real-time data to incident commanders.

This is only a test
This time, the tornado wasn’t real. This time, the mysterious vapor was dry ice. This time, the victims were made of rubber. This time, the town was Crisis City, a place built for large-scale training like the recent two-day exercise that united search and rescue teams from all corners of the state to prepare for disasters that could bring them all together again.

“We (Crisis City) do at least one full-scale exercise each year and bring in units from all over so they can get used to working with each other, learn what tools and skills other units have available,” said Joe Koch, director of Saline County Emergency Management and member of the exercise design team.

The exercise also provided an opportunity for teams to train in unfamiliar environments.

“This lets us refine our skills in the urban search and rescue domain,” said Matt Kasriel, a firefighter from Garden City, Kan., a rural area.

“The wide-open search was a chance to refresh skills we don’t often use in urban environment. We walked six miles in the mud. We don’t do that in the city,” said Kim Blake, Kansas City, Kan., rescue chief.

The exercise was comprised of various scenarios. In addition to the wide-area search – complete with lots of mud thanks to the coincidence of several rainy days earlier in the week, teams practiced “breaching and breaking,” a term that refers to “using the big tools to break concrete to gain access,” according to Jeremy Jones, Leawood, Kan., captain and task force leader of the exercise.

The scenario that required breaching and breaking was set up to resemble a tornado’s destruction of a four-story building including cars crushed when the structure fell, broken windows, pipes, downed power-lines, and several tons of broken concrete walls.

Hazardous materials teams practiced securing a leak in the middle of the destruction and squads with rope rescue teams removed a victim who had fallen from the fourth floor to the bottom of the elevator shaft. Access to the victim from the first floor was cut off, so the team lowered Aaron Kline, firefighter from Leawood, from the fourth floor to secure the victim. Once stabilized, victim and firefighter were raised to the second floor, then lowered down the side of the building.

“Once the patient is immobilized, we can’t bring them down the stairs. The only way to get them out is down the side of the building,” said Sean Brooks, fire apparatus operator from Olathe, Kan.

Send in the drones
“Can we get a UAS in the center of the compound for a close-up birds-eye view?” asked Micah Hydeman, fire driver from Manhattan, Kan., and incident commander of the hazardous material scenario, over two-way radio.

“The unmanned aircraft can give us a close-up of our target so we don’t have to send people in for recon,” he said. “All we know at this point is that two 55-gallon drums are exuding vapor.”

The HazMat team was also using aerial photos and other data provided by the unmanned aircraft to get a sense of what was happening in the surrounding environment: other rescue locations, surrounding structures that would need to be evacuated, and wind conditions.

Unmanned aircraft systems can even be equipped with sensors that can detect the chemical composition of unidentified substances.

“We bring in the K-State UAS team so that these teams can get familiar with what they provide. They enhance and increase recovery speed. They’re an extra set of eyes and provide situational awareness without putting a team in harms way so can get perspective of environment quickly and effectively,” Koch said.

Kansas State University’s unmanned aircraft systems program office manned two aircraft over the course of the exercise, providing requested video feedback.

“The idea is that they can get in the air fast and give us an idea of obvious victims so we can start the rescue right away,” Kasriel said.

“They show where debris and bodies are and give us an idea of the path of destruction,” Blake said. “And it means less walking in a large area.”

“UAVs are helpful in a lot of different ways,” Jones said. “They can help the field team in places people can’t go, like culverts, and give us overall and close-up views of a rubble pile. They can also be used in the dark.”

Unmanned aircraft can be equipped with infrared sensors that detect victims’ body heat, making it possible to continue – or begin – large-scale search and rescue efforts at night.

“In an actual emergency situation, UAVs are a useful tool,” said Dennis Colsden, interim manager of Crisis City. “They provide info to the incident commanders and the emergency operations center that helps them make informed decisions. In the event of a train wreck, for example, the camera on the UAV could zoom in to see the train car placards to show us what chemicals the cars were carrying, where the cars were damaged, how big the spill is and a lot of other information so we don’t have to send a team of people into a dangerous situation to find that out.”

Permission granted
In addition to simulated disaster response training, Crisis City offers another commodity – COA’d air space. Kansas State University’s unmanned aircraft systems team is able to practice flight procedures and disaster scenarios over Crisis City, having received certificates of authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration to do so. The FAA does not currently allow unmanned aircraft to share the national air space with larger, piloted aircraft, so K-State’s proximity to Crisis City is a unique opportunity to train unmanned aircraft pilots.

In the event of a disaster such as a tornado, the airspace over the area becomes a no-fly zone. K-State has been granted a certificate of authorization that allows their unmanned aircraft to fly in that airspace to aid in search and rescue efforts.

About Crisis City
Crisis City, located approximately 10 miles southwest of Salina, is a first responder, emergency management, and military training center managed by under the jurisdiction of the Kansas Adjutant General’s Department and managed by the Kansas Department of Emergency Management. Crisis City is a tenant organization on the Smoky Hill Weapons Range Complex, working with the Great Plains Joint Training Center.

More information is available at http://www.kansastag.gov/KDEM.asp?PageID=370.

About K-State Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Office
K-State ‘s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Office is housed on the K-State Salina campus and is home to the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Technology Evaluation Center that evaluates existing UAS technology and platforms for their suitability in disaster response scenarios and trains operators/maintainers.

The UAS Program Office is operated by K-State’s Applied Aviation Research Center. The center’s charter is to advance aerospace technology through the application of research capabilities in propulsion, airframe, avionics and aviation training. The program office collaborates with military organizations and the private sector to focus on developing unmanned flight in the nation’s airspace and training pilots and operators of unmanned aircraft systems.

K-State also establishes criteria for unmanned aircraft system flight operations, including activity at the Smoky Hill Weapons Range and eventually at the Herington unmanned aircraft system flight facility. The university’s program office establishes policies and procedures to enable both military and civilian organizations to fly and test at the area facilities.

More information about K-State’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems program is available at http://www.salina.k-state.edu/aviation/uas