Tornadoes and mudslides

The horrific tornadoes in Missouri and the mudslide at the Malaysia orphanage are very sad. The events were a stark reminder of the lessons learned at the annual Summer Institute on emergency informatics hosted last weekend by Texas A&M at TEEX’s Disaster City and EOTC facility May 19-21.

Missouri illustrates that it’s both response and recovery. The life-saving response activities usually can (and due to the immediacy of the injuries have to) be managed by the local and regional groups, but the less obvious challenge is how to get the community rebuilt. Can aerial vehicles do more than help with response allocation but also speed insurance and small business claims? Can marine vehicles help find or clear debris? Can robots help with victim management, such as the work being done by the US Army TATRIC? Of course, it’s all moot if the responders don’t have these assets or can’t effectively distribute, visualize, and use the information… there’s a missing information infrastructure.

The mudslide illustrates the need to be able to “see” into an access denied area- which we call remote assessment or perception at a distance. Mudslides are always difficult due to low rate of survival of direct contact as the mud displaces all oxygen and the mud is particularly hard on a ground robot as we learned at the LaConchita deployment in 2005.  If there is a void, it’s a small one and it’s imperative to reach the survivor before their air is gone. Progress in ground penetrating radar remains slow but new advances such as Dan Goldman’s sandworm robot may make it possible to quickly find voids. Of course that means both advances in the technology but also acquisitions so that teams have the robots and don’t lose a day or more getting them in.

Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and the families and the loss of the orphanage in Malaysia is doubly sad.

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