First Responders Get Look at Newest Gadgets in the Field

Different groups used the Texas A&M Disaster City event as a brainstorming workshop, with private companies getting feedback on what sort of technology first responders need.

by Allen Reed, McClatchy News Service / June 5, 2014

First responders from around the nation got to take the controls of state-of-the-art robotics at Texas A&M's Disaster City on Wednesday.

The Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station Center for Emergency Informatics hosted about 50 experts, A&M faculty, students and private vendors, demonstrating technology used by the U.S. armed forces. The two-day workshop focused on how to reduce the loss of life and property during floods.

Experts from the National Weather Service, Texas Task Force 1, the National Guard, American Red Cross, Texas A&M Forest Service and others descended on the College Station facility from as far away as South Carolina, Utah, California and Washington, D.C.

It was the 15th biannual event hosted by TEES and the seventh held at Disaster City, a high-tech sprawling collection of derailed trains, polluted ponds, faux meth labs and other obstacles where first responders get near real-world training.

The different groups used the event as a brainstorming workshop, with private companies getting feedback on what sort of technology first responders need and the service men and women getting to test out and mold the gadgets of the future.

"As these technologies like the robots that fly -- the UAVs -- are beginning to be transitioned from military use only into use for the private and public sector, first responders are looking at them as a tool as well," said David Martin, Texas Task Force 1 member. "It enables us to get a view of the situation we can't get from any other perspective without putting our firefighters or responders in harm's way."

For example, drones and robots can provide video from areas easier and safer than traditional means. A robotic boat can detect underwater debris in a flooded area and a aerial drone can quickly take photos or video from a disaster zone.

"It makes the search go faster and it gives you a better overview of the entire scene," Martin said. "Part of what we're doing here this week is exploring what those possibilities are. What is the technology out there and what are the ways we can use it that would benefit the search and rescue community."

Steven Rutherford with the South Carolina Emergency Response Task Force is interested how the technology can combat forest fires and hurricanes on the East Coast.

"Usually when hurricanes come in, they shut the beach down," Rutherford said. "We can take some of this knowledge and go out there and recon the beaches before we go in there to start searching buildings. So we can have a good layout of exactly how devastating it is."

©2014 The Eagle (Bryan, Texas)