The first hours after an accident or disaster are generally the most crucial: the situation needs to be examined as quickly as possible so priorities can be determined. Yet the way in which crisis and disaster response is currently organized is still rather traditional. This month the European INGENIOUS project has taken off. In the project, researchers from the University of Twente’s Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC), are collaborating in a large international consortium, focuses on making first responders on one hand more effective, but also make their job much safer.
So-called first responders, the emergency staff who are first to arrive at an incident or disaster site, generally work in relatively precarious and unstable situations. They are exposed to considerable hazards and sometimes risk their own lives searching for survivors in the rubble, or on buildings that are on fire. “The current situation is far from ideal,” Norman Kerle, a professor at the University of Twente, explains. “We should be able to use technology more effectively in order to gain control of the chaos. Decisions such as where and how to deploy people, what the priorities are and where the emergency services will be able to carry out work can only be made once this has happened.”
Equipping first responders
INGINEOUS will focus on developing novel technologies to equip first responders, from smart uniforms (with embedded sensors), to smart helmets (with visors that can show augmented reality), to smart boots that can detect if the responder is still moving, to new ways to allow the localization of the responder in various situations, which allows an incident commander to monitor all responders, but also for them to know where their colleagues are located. Drones will be used to allow asset localizing as well as mapping of the environment.
It is essential that reliable data are collected for the emergency teams to be effective. Kerle: “For that, indoor mapping in novel ways is being developed, including deployment of drones to physically map a space by ‘bumping’ into walls and recording that position, to the use of small laser pulses as well as ultrasound-based mapping.”
Proof of concept
In the three-year project, led by the ICCS in Greece, researchers are working on a proof of concept that demonstrates that this form of collecting, analysing and using on site information would be viable and operable in a real-life situation. “We would like to test the toolkit during various scenarios in different buildings and structure types. This involves collaboration with a number of parties, some of which also worked on the INACHUS project,” explains Kerle. “Many of the new parties we are working with are end users, as they are crucial at this stage of development.”