Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) procedures and techniques have been honed over many years drawing on user / rescuer experiences of tragic events such as earthquakes and typhoons, tsunamis and tornados, as well as man-made crises such as urban terrorist attacks. These techniques and procedures are constantly being upgraded, with advances in technology enabling equipment improvements, and fresh strategic-level thinking offering new and improved ways of responding to and coordinating crises situations of all kinds.
In the past 10-15 years, high density urban areas around the globe, where, in the main, people live and work in concrete and reinforced-concrete buildings, have experienced an increase in disasters of all kinds, which, in turn, have introduced a fresh and increased demand for USAR capabilities both tried and tested as well as new and improved.
USAR involves specialist teams with specialist skills which, between them, are intended to cover all the known eventualities that might be encountered when entering/being deployed into a crisis situation. Search, rescue, management, medical and logistics functions are all part of typical USAR team specializations; but while international deployments of USAR teams from different countries have helped rescue many trapped victims over that period, new lessons have led to a clear understanding that all those different USAR teams, no matter where from, needed to be coordinated by a central system that would ensure the best use was made of all the available and arriving USAR resources on the ground.
This is where the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) comes in; under the auspices of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs INSARAG facilitates coordination between international USAR teams prior to disasters, typically earthquakes, and involving building and structure collapse. The group established the INSARAG External Classification (IEC) of international USAR teams based on their respective operational capabilities designed to ensure that only the right resources are deployed to an event. In addition, the INSARAG External Reclassification (IER) process is also in place and an accepted measure of continual education and training needed for a USAR team’s capabilities to remain current. Together, the IER and the IEC are the INSARAG Classification System. Not only does the system coordinate prior to an event and ensure the right teams are deployed, but it also helps get those resources to the right places on the ground as quickly as possible using its own devised INSARAG USAR team classification system of Light, Medium and Heavy teams, each offering differing skill sets, capabilities and technological support, amongst other things – more on those later.
As of February this year, a new set of INSARAG Guidelines came into effect having been unanimously accepted by the INSARAG Steering Group. Far too detailed and involved to go into in great detail in this article, one area of evolutionary thought is about On-Site Operations Coordination Centre (OSOCC) issues. The concept of an OSOCC has been part of the group’s system since it first came into effect in 1991, with new OSOCC guidelines last released in 2009. The aim of the OSOCC is to coordinate and facilitate on-site co-operation between the international responders arriving at a disaster scene should one not be available from the country affected. As part of that it has to establish a physical space or coordination centre so incoming teams have one place of command and control to and from which they can operate optimally. What the new 2015 guidelines emphasize are OSOCC procedures in greater detail than before and the importance of such strategic coordination in large-scale events and the need to look at new methods of OSOCC operations going forward.
On the Ground
In countries where the UN way of doing things is an accepted process, there is normally a resident coordinator for the UN who will have a team that helps ensure inter-agency coordination with that nation’s government. They will have ‘prepared the stage’ as fully as possible prior to any disaster situation arising. Then, when an actual event takes place, a humanitarian coordinator (sometimes the same person) for the UN in that country will take control of humanitarian coordination in support of the national government where there has been a request and formal invitation to do so – the UN and other agencies will only conduct humanitarian activities at the request and invitation of a sovereign state; (having UN people already in place does not always mean help will be requested).
Taking for read that the UN system is in place, USAR teams arriving on the ground will have only limited time in which to find and rescue victims of a disaster who will typically be trapped in collapsed buildings. Coordination of these teams by the OSOCC gets underway as deployment begins and on arrival USAR teams will work to INSARAG guidelines although in cooperation with any national agencies which are operating and which will help in establishing a USAR Coordination Cell (UCC). This cell follows INSARAG guidelines and all the international USAR teams will operate through this unit/facility, even to the point that early teams will provide some of the qualified manpower to manage and run the facility and each team will also have to appoint its own UCC liaison officer.
When Medium and Heavy USAR teams arrive in country they must register and confirm their capabilities as per their INSARAG classifications, N.B. Light teams do not usually deploy internationally, and any present at a disaster will normally be a local resource. Deployment of teams is done in a way to ensure the right resources reach locations and situations where they will have most impact. It’s at this point that the USAR teams deploy tactically into the field with their equipment, bare hands and experience to guide them.
Victim Location Equipment – Talking to Each Other
When faced with many collapsed buildings and a situation of total chaos, Medium or Heavy USAR teams will deploy two crucial pieces of crucial Victim Location Equipment: search cameras and seismic/acoustic sensor systems. Currently, however, methodologies and technology mean the USAR team operator of either a search camera or life-detection seismic/acoustic sensor system operates in isolation and is tied to that single search tool. He has no means of communicating his progress of the sudden discovery of possible signs of life other than by manual means with his team around him and would typically be the same operator for both bits of kit, first using the life detection sensor system and only then using the search camera system – a lengthy process.
Thanks to a new communications solution devised to enable life detection operators to communicate with other members of the USAR team, that situation is now changing. Whether individual operators, or two working in tandem, the new Search-com device from Savox Communications allows search-tool operators to communicate with other team members over two-way radio, increasing the efficiency of the search team on the ground through more efficient communication and enabling them to use multiple search tools, simultaneously.
For more than 15 years Savox has been one of the leading manufacturers and suppliers of search cameras – Searchcam 3000 – and seismic/acoustic listening devices – Delsar LD3 – which has provided a huge amount of feedback from end users of what have become almost de facto industry standard solutions. USAR teams are continuously working on better and more efficient working routines in order for them to be able to save more lives in these extreme and time-critical situations, where the difference between life and death can often be measured in seconds. By combining this valuable feedback over the years with one of the other core strengths of the company – communications – Savox has arrived at SR-100-Rescue, which is set to have a major positive impact on the operations of USAR teams worldwide. The solution provides a totally new use case for USAR teams by combining traditional search and rescue systems and tools, such as Searchcam 3000 and Delsar LD3, with increasingly important team communications for improved efficiency within the team structure. It is also a universal/technology-agnostic product not only compatible with the original Searchcam and Delsar SAR products from Savox, but also other 3rd party life-detection sensor systems and search cameras. And while two-way radio may be the preferred option of many teams on the ground, SR-100-Rescue can also be assigned to operate through mobile phones, smart smartphones and tablets. It can be used as a remote speaker mic in the event the operator does not want to use a headset; it has separate PTT buttons for each PTT-capable device so as not to compromise the PTT capabilities of the other devices it’s being used with.
The new SR-100-Rescue system has its own volume control, which is important to ensure listening with the life detection devices is not affected by the new integral radio communications facility, and it also benefits from the broadest range of alternative headsets available instead of simply traditional behind-the-head earmuff headsets. This draws on Savox’ vast experience in this area and headset types include:
- SNR-rated and approved passive hearing-protection headsets
- In-ear, active-noise-reduction, hearing-protection headsets
- Active noise reduction, behind-the-head hearing protection headsets
- Helmet-mounted bone conductive headsets
There are also respirator communications options for using SR-100-Rescue with breathing apparatus in use by most fire and rescue agencies.
SR-100-Rescue technology has already been fielded by a number of NATO Special Forces and its durability has been proven in combat situations to ensure it is fit for purpose. There is currently no other communications solution that can link the various life detection systems in use by USAR teams.
Footnote – Nepalese Tragedy
It’s very easy to sit and write about what procedures and processes need to be followed in a disaster response situation and what USAR teams should do and how they should operate on the ground, without actually being in the ‘thick of it’. At time of writing, Nepal and surrounding countries have just been hit by a 7.8 earthquake with thousands killed and many more missing. International USAR teams are already deploying and we can only wish them good luck and success in finding as many people alive as is humanly possible.
For more information, go to www.savox.com