Simulated Earthquake Exercise in Mid-America Tests New Technologies
Wednesday, September 11, 2019 | Comments

A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science & Technology Directorate (S&T) operational exercise brought together public-safety leaders to test technologies during a disaster response exercise.

Under the guise of a fictional 7.7 magnitude earthquake, S&T deployed teams and technologies to several locations along the New Madrid Seismic Zone, which crosses eight states: Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Mississippi.

The primary objectives were to leverage S&T’s research and development portfolio to enhance information sharing and urban search and rescue practices; demonstrate a “whole community” approach to adjudicating and allocating critical resources; and integrate real-time field reporting capabilities in emergency operation centers.

“Our role in Shaken Fury was to bring in science and technology capabilities to enhance not only resilience, but also to foster a stronger culture of innovation within the first responder space,” said Colin Murray, senior exchange officer from Canada to S&T.

For the past several years, S&T partnered with the Central United States Earthquake Consortium (CUSEC) to develop tools for automated sharing of situational data across different platforms. For Shaken Fury, S&T developed data dashboards linking to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) seven community lifelines, which are indispensable services, and developed links to seamlessly share information between civilian and Department of Defense (DOD) elements responding to the disaster.

The dashboards were integrated into Shaken Fury play at emergency operations centers in Kentucky and Tennessee.

“The primary information sharing tool we deployed is the Regional Information Sharing Portal (RISP). And essentially, that is the backbone of all the information sharing systems that we have,” said S&T Program Manager Ron Langhelm. “We had information both feeding into it as well as flowing back out it into other applications. For the folks working the field on the ground, this supported their decision-making in everything from where to move commodities to mitigating power outages. You know, where they could best utilize resources and deploy those resources in the field.”

“I can look at the level of damage and the predicted recovery time and that gives me some idea … of how to prepare for what's coming toward us,” said Michael Dossett, director of the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management and CUSEC chairman. “We can now pull down layers from just about everything, whether it be sheltering, transportation, energy, health. The ability to pull all those resources together, leverage technology to move the information, and then allow folks at my level to make critical decisions. I submit to you, this is the foundation of a process that you will see go on for the next decade in terms of more timely, tested data in the hands of state emergency managers that allows us, quite frankly, to make life-saving decisions.”

Under the Shaken Fury umbrella, S&T staff also deployed to the Muscatatuck Training Center in Indiana for Unified Response, the largest-ever urban search and rescue (US&R) exercise hosted in the U.S. The multinational exercise included 13 US&R teams from the U.S., Canada and Australia, the state of Illinois, as well as six FEMA task forces, the Department of Defense and National Guard. Responders used the technologies to search for “disaster survivors” in simulated rubble piles and collapsed buildings.

One technology, X3 FINDER, allows responders to “see” through walls to locate trapped disaster survivors by detecting heartbeats and respiration. The technology was tested with US&R teams from the U.S. and Canada in rubble piles and partially collapsed buildings. During a demo with the Nebraska Task Force 1, FINDER was operating at the same time as rescue dogs were searching the building for survivors. In this evaluation, FINDER located each survivor and accomplished this faster than the dogs.

The exercise also allowed a rare opportunity to test prototypes in a near real world environment. Two developers of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) platforms designed to operate indoors had the chance to do just that, alongside several Canadian US&R teams. With the ability to carry cameras and sensors enabling rescuers to conduct faster and safer searches inside compromised spaces, these tools are the next generation of life-saving robotics, extending the eyes, ears, and noses of people and search animals.

The UAS were demonstrated in “compromised” spaces like a smoke-filled subway airshaft and tunnel, a dark shipping container structure, and a collapsed building frame in high wind. Performance results and feedback from the first responders will inform further development of the technologies, which could be commercially available in 2020.

S&T also set up a technology showcase tent where 10 industry vendors showed off new and emerging technologies. About 400 participants could view the technologies and discuss requirements with subject matter experts.

“The work we're undertaking [through Shaken Fury] revolves around an earthquake scenario, but from the S&T standpoint, everything we deployed is applicable for all hazards,” said Langhelm. “...We're looking to carry this into the future. All the successes we demonstrated around this scenario, they can carry into the event that's going to happen tomorrow, two years, five, or 10 years down the road.”

An after-action report detailing lessons learned in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee will be posted to S&T’s website for agencies at every level to study and use when real-life disasters occur.

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