National Guard July 2011 : Page 24
New Gear By William Matthews Officials are banking that technology and some new equipment will improve Guard responses to domestic incidents. Some of it is already proving its worth ONFRONTED BY FLOODS hurricanes, tornadoes and the threat of terror-ist attacks, the National Guard is shopping for, testing and buying new technology and equip-ment designed to deal with domestic emergencies. From tiny, portable cell-phone net-works for emergency communication to sandbag substitutes for ﬂood con-trol to sun-powered generators, the Guard is gearing up to better respond when disaster strikes at home. C S AND B ASKETS Louisiana Guardsmen ﬁll HESCO baskets in preparation for ﬂooding from the opening of a spill-way along the Mississippi River. 24 CERFP’ S U P New protective suits with power-assisted respirators are among the new equipment delivered to the Indiana Guard this spring. Since they won’t have to labor to breathe in the new suits, Indiana Guardsmen should be able to work longer and harder in contaminated environments, says Lt. Col. Patrick Thibodeau, who is in charge of set-ting up Indiana’s chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear enhanced-response force package, or CERFP. The Indiana Guard team aims for validation this summer. The protective suits arrived along with truckloads of other specialized gear, including new decontamination tents, new radios, generators, hard hats and extraction tools. Along with the new equipment comes new training, especially in “heavy search and extraction,” says Thibodeau. Part of the CERFP’s job is to quick-ly rescue victims from the rubble of buildings collapsed by explosions, earthquakes or other disasters. It’s a capability that has been overlooked in the past, Thibodeau says. That work will be done mostly by hand with pry bars, cutting torches, jacks, blocking and bracing equip-ment and snake-like cameras that can be pushed into cracks and crevasses AP Photo/Gerald Herbert | Na tional Guard
By William Matthews
Officials are banking that technology and some new equipment will improve Guard responses to domestic incidents. Some of it is already proving its worth
CONFRONTED BY FLOODS hurricanes, tornadoes and the threat of terrorist attacks, the National Guard is shopping for, testing and buying new technology and equipment designed to deal with domestic emergencies.
From tiny, portable cell-phone networks for emergency communication to sandbag substitutes for flood control to sun-powered generators, the Guard is gearing up to better respond when disaster strikes at home.
New protective suits with power-assisted respirators are among the new equipment delivered to the Indiana Guard this spring.
Since they won't have to labor to breathe in the new suits, Indiana Guardsmen should be able to work longer and harder in contaminated environments, says Lt. Col. Patrick Thibodeau, who is in charge of setting up Indiana's chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear enhanced-response force package, or CERFP.
The Indiana Guard team aims for validation this summer.
The protective suits arrived along with truckloads of other specialized gear, including new decontamination tents, new radios, generators, hard hats and extraction tools.
Along with the new equipment comes new training, especially in "heavy search and extraction," says Thibodeau.
Part of the CERFP's job is to quickly rescue victims from the rubble of buildings collapsed by explosions, earthquakes or other disasters. It's a capability that has been overlooked in the past, Thibodeau says.
That work will be done mostly by hand with pry bars, cutting torches, jacks, blocking and bracing equipment and snake-like cameras that can be pushed into cracks and crevasses and beam back pictures over a fiber optic cable.
The goal is fast response, so the CERFP will travel light. It takes too long to get cranes, backhoes and other heavy equipment to disaster sites, Thibodeau says.
After rescuing victims, the unit is equipped to decontaminate those exposed to chemical, biological or radiological agents, to provide initial medical care, then transport the injured to hospitals.
The Indiana Guard feels ready.
"In my time in the Indiana Army Guard, this is the most modern we have ever been. We're even being fielded stuff sometimes before the active Army," Thibodeau says.
BETTER THAN NEW
Although they're still practically fresh off the factory floor, the Guard's newest helicopters are getting an upgrade.
UH-72A Lakotas are being retrofitted with new "security-and-support-battalion mission equipment packages" designed to boost their capability for humanitarian and disaster relief missions.
These "S&S MEPs" will give the helicopters high-quality cameras, radios that can talk directly to civilian emergency officials, the ability to shoot and transmit live video, new navigation systems that can locate street addresses on the ground, and high-powered searchlights.
"What this allows the Guard to do is to seamlessly integrate with state and local law enforcement for emergency response and disaster response," says Tim Paynter, a spokesman for Lakota-maker EADS North America.
Electro-optical and infrared cameras will enable the helicopters to stream live video images day and night to ground stations–such as the governor's office or an adjutant general–to provide real time situational awareness during emergencies, Paynter says.
The cameras have a 2.5-mile range.
"So if you're tracking a suspicious vehicle along the Southwest border, for example, you can zoom in on the license plate from 2.5 miles away and stream video of it" to waiting Border Patrol agents, he says.
Simultaneously, equipment on board the helicopter will capture and store the video for later use.
A new radio system will enable the helicopter crew to transmit simultaneously on multiple bands, and a GPS linked to a "moving map" will find locations on the ground by the street addresses, the method local police and emergency officials use instead of the longitude and latitude coordinates typically used by the military.
And the mission package includes a 30 million candlepower searchlight.
The S&S package "takes a vanilla aircraft and gives an operational capability for the first responder community," says Ted Mickevicius, EADS' director of Guard and Reserve business development. "You can sit in an operations center and have a real sense of what's going on during an incident."
The first S&S-equipped Lakota is scheduled for delivery to the Mississippi Army Guard in Tupelo this summer, Paynter says. Ultimately, 83 new Lakotas will have the package built in and 17 UH-72As already in service will go back to the EADS plant in Columbus, Miss., to have the new gear installed.
Each mission package costs more than $1.5 million.
DELUGE OF DATA
As more than 2,000 North Dakota Guardsmen battled the rising Red and Missouri rivers this spring, they enlisted the help of some new high-tech allies.
An operations center packed with computers and communications gear combined real time information with geospatial intelligence to produce an up-to-the-minute common operational picture of the floods and the Guard troops fighting to control them.
Electronic screens told at a glance which troops were deployed where, what the weather was like, what the river conditions were and what equipment and personnel were standing by if conditions got worse.
The center was manned by three dozen Guardsmen who kept in communication with troops in the field and constantly updated electronic maps showing troop locations, changing water levels and the location of flood fighting equipment and materials.
By adding layers of geospatial data to the maps, command center specialists could predict where flood waters were likely to go if a levee was breached or a dike collapsed. And they knew where the closest dump trucks, helicopters, sandbags and troops were to make emergency repairs.
Video feeds from Border Patrol unmanned aerial vehicles and from Guard OH-58 Kiowa helicopters added to the operational picture. North Dakota's Kiowas were equipped with new day and night-capable video cameras.
Still more data streamed in from the state Transportation Department on road conditions, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on river water levels and from the U.S. Geological Survey on historic river flows.
"Our people can see in a real-time setting what's going on out there– where our people are, what the missions are, the status of their progress, what flood flows are," says Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, the North Dakota adjutant general. "It's really amazing. The use of technology today helps us do our job much, much better than in the past."
This is the third year in a row that the North Dakota Guard has been called on for major flood duty, but the first time it has assembled such a complete common operational picture.
BASKETS OR BAGS?
Technology that was first used to protect U.S. troops during the "mother of all battles" two decades ago in Operation Desert Storm increasingly is being employed to battle Mother Nature here at home.
HESCO Concertainer barriers were developed in Britain in the late 1980s to control erosion, but were quickly adopted by the U.S. military as defensive barriers that could be rapidly erected to protect troops against bullets, shrapnel and even car bombs.
They've been used extensively for force protection in Iraq and Afghanistan, and this spring Guard troops from South Dakota to Louisiana have erected miles of HESCO barriers to control flooding along the Red, Mississippi and Missouri rivers.
HESCO barriers are foldable welded wire baskets with a heavy-duty fabric liner. Set them up, connect them together, fill them with sand, and you've got an instant three or four foot-high dike. Stack them for an even higher barrier.
"A typical wall of HESCO Concertainer units equivalent to approximately 1,500 sandbags can be erected and installed by two people using a standard front loader in just 20 minutes," according to HESCO. "A similar sandbag wall would take 10 workers roughly seven hours to erect."
At Morgan City, La., this spring, it took 15 Guardsmen and a front-end loader a few hours to build 1,800 feet of a HESCO wall, a task that a Guard unit chief said would normally take four days with sandbags.
In all, Louisiana Guardsmen erected nearly 10 miles of HESCO barriers this spring in flood-threatened areas to hold back the Mississippi River. And Guardsmen in Iowa and Mississippi were busy installing them, too.
The North Dakota Guard, which erected 10 miles of HESCO barriers to protect Fargo from the Red River in 2009, switched this year to a new and possibly even faster system of temporary barriers called TrapBags.
"One of our airmen found a way to fill it faster than any of the manufacturers have," boasts North Dakota Guard spokeswoman Billie Jo Lorius.
With floods stretching from Manitoba, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico, "we're busier than ever before this year," says Jared Lyon, HESCO's accounting director.
If a hurricane, an earthquake or other disaster knocks out power, Guardsmen are likely to set up a bunch of generators and order a convoy of fuel trucks to keep them running. But the Kansas Guard has been testing an alternative–extracting electricity from sunshine.
Since July 2010, Kansas Guard soldiers assigned to the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa have been using an experimental Army "solar shade" in Djibouti to generate some of the power needed to operate their equipment and to produce a patch of shade for relief from the relentless African sun.
Each solar shade is a 40-by-60-foot awning made up of dozens of flexible solar panels that together can generate two kilowatts of electricity. That's enough to power radios, run a water pump, operate a radio retransmission site and recharge batteries, says Maj. Timothy Franklin of the Army Research, Development and Engineering Command.
Over the course of a year, solar shade use in Djibouti saved more than $230,000 in fuel costs, according to the Army.
Compared to current petroleum-powered generators, solar shades are blessedly silent, require little maintenance and have no logistics trail, Army scientists say.
Besides Djibouti, they've been used with success at the National Training Center in the California desert, Franklin says. And though they're still experimental, they show some promise for use in disaster response operations.
Whether it's an accident at a chemical plant or a terrorist attack, the Guard has to be ready to decontaminate victims. Typically that means setting up shower tents and scrubbing people with water and decontamination solutions.
But the Georgia Guard has successfully tested a new dry decontamination method that simply wipes most contaminants away.
Using decontamination mitts that look like large oven mitts, members of Georgia's CERFP demonstrated last fall that dry decontamination can be effective against 80 to 90 percent of the contaminants the Guard is likely to encounter.
The mitts are made of a new high-tech fabric called Fibertect. It's a highly absorbent material made of two layers of cotton with a layer of activated carbon sandwiched in between.
"It absorbs any kind of toxic chemical," including chemical warfare agents, says Amit Kapoor, the president of First Line Technology, which supplied mitts to the Georgia Guard for testing.
Fibertect was developed by Texas Tech University for the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security.
The mitts don't neutralize the chemicals, but rather absorb and trap them. They have been shown to be effective at decontaminating clothing, skin, weapons and equipment such as computers that can't be cleaned with water, Kapoor says.
Current decontamination practice is "you have to wash down people– hundreds or maybe thousands of people" after a major incident, Kapoor explains. "The mitt offers you immediate decontamination," although follow-on showers and decontaminating solutions probably will not be abandoned.
After testing, Sgt. Shannon Richardson, a senior nuclear, biological and chemical specialist with the Georgia Guard, says he would urge the National Guard Bureau to add Fibertect to the CERFP's equipment inventory.
In addition to mitts, Fibertect is available as various size wipes for cleaning equipment and in sheets as large as 20 feet long and 4 feet wide "for sopping up chemicals," Kapoor says.
NETWORK IN A BOX
It's hurricane season again, and this year the Florida National Guard is taking delivery of 44 miniature cell phone systems designed to provide emergency communications capability when commercial networks and other communications have been knocked out.
It's a "3G cellular network in a box," says Mike Bristol, senior vice president and general manager of TeleCommunications Systems Inc., which received a $3.8 million contract to provide the communications gear.
Each 15-by-22-inch box serves as a small GSM cell phone node. GSM is a technology standard used by about 80 percent of the world's cell phones.
Each tiny network can be activated in less than 10 minutes and will provide cell phone service for a five to seven kilometer area, Bristol says.
The networks come in two sizes–a small one that can handle seven calls simultaneously and a larger one that can handle 23, he says.
The networks are intended for use by "the first of the first responders," and the Florida Guard expects to use them mainly to establish initial command and control in the immediate vicinity of an emergency.
In addition to letting Guardsmen and other first responders communicate, the system will also "sniff" for working cell phones within its range and send them text messages such as instructions on where people can go to receive aid, Bristol says.
In addition to phone and text service, the network will support data communications.
Upon arrival at a disaster site or other emergency, the systems operate initially on battery power, and later may be powered by small generators, Bristol says.
The mini-network equipment would serve until arrival of Florida's much larger Regional Emergency Response Networks that can be trucked into the disaster area.
William Matthews is a freelance writer based in Springfield, Va., who specializes in military matters. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"This is the most modern we have ever been. We're even being fielded stuff sometimes before the active Army." –Lt. Col. Patrick Thibodeau Indiana National Guard
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