The sad news of the mudslide in Angra dos Reis, Brazil, brings up memories of our deployment to the 2005 La Conchita, California, mudslides. Rory Rehbeck, then a captain with LA County Fire Department, invited CRASAR out to assist Ventura County Fire Department. There really aren’t survivors of a mudslide- the mud is a liquid, penetrates like water, and covers everything. The best you can hope for is survivors from the collateral damage. The houses on the slope of La Conchita were either buried, squished as if inside a giant trash compacter, or untouched. We attempted to use the new Extreme robots we had purchased through a NSF grant to search some of the damaged houses as a family of 6 was still missing (they were on vacation) and the canines were giving some ambiguous hits.
Our journal article “Rescue robots for mudslides: A descriptive study of the 2005 La Conchita mudslide response” Journal of Field Robotics, vol 25 no 1-2 (Jan 2008) p 3-16 gives the details of what Sam Stover and I experienced: the robots did not do well in the mud and vegetation when we tried to go under a house to get in it nor work in deep shag carpeting when we entered another house through the garret window. See the Media Gallery for photos. But being there did identify the need for remote sensor networks dropped off by UAVs to continously monitor for further slides (geologists checking manually every 6-8 hours isn’t good enough)- sensor networks for advanced placement already exist, they just don’t get used. We’re looking forward to combining the UAV work here with Prof. Dez Song’s work in sensor networks.
The families in Brazil are in our prayers and hearts.