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Big Disasters: Search and Rescue

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This post is based on solutions that appeared since the tsunami in Asia, and now again with Hurricane Katrina. Not all may be so practical, or directly available. I do not intend to put the blame on anyone for what happened, rather to try and look for ways to ameliorate the service and get things better done/organised next time. Your opinion and advice is most welcome.

New Orleans seen from above.

We should not forget that many died in those two big events, and that some of those deaths could have been prevented, but also that training for such an event is very hard, you can hardly flood an entire city for a week to test things out. So the best we can do is learn from what happened and look for solutions. That is all you’ll find here, possible solutions. While I won’t point fingers, I may make remarks about what can be done better. Where I live, and the country north of us, The Netherlands, we can’t do without levees. It is a necessity, as the flood of 1953 pointed out.

I City defence ideas

1. Levees

As elsewhere in the world, the wetlands of the river have been used for other things, and now they can’t be used anymore to give the river a bit more space. There is no easy solution for that. The only way that I can think off would be to allow areas downstream and upstream to be flooded by the Mississippi, if needed be. The areas would be surrounded by levees themselves, so they don’t flood the surrounding area.

Another potiental solution, but one the people won’t like, is to take part of the lake, and build a second levee. Or to build the levee, rather then a straight line, in the same way, in part, as the walls of cities were in the Middle Ages up until Vaubans‘ time (in english). So rather than a straight line, it would be supplemented by bastions. These could have a space, which would be filled with water if they would break, but would not directly affect the levee behind it.

2. Barriers in the city.

Building levees in the city might be seen as useful, but is, in my opinion, only useful around important buildings. Hospitals and the like might be protected this way; then when the city gets flooded, they don’t necessarily drown. If they were to be connected to an emergy energy-grid, they would be able to operate longer. More on this emergency energy-grid later. Another way would be to provide metal barriers near where the canal from the lake to the Mississippi lies. In cities in Europe, for example Antwerp, they are used, and closed whenever it’s (super) high tide.

Alternatively, nets could be used that would come up, or be placed when people are avacuated, around an area of town. Their effect is mainly to let water pass, but nothing else. They could be erected before the flood, with a place that is like a mini-levee, so that people can get past to another area in time. They are also psychological. After an area is flooded, when the water is pumped away, not only the water will go, but also anything that floats on it, or easily comes away. Placing such nets would mean that as the water is pumped away, personal belongings may remain in the area. And although damaged, they could later be retrieved. Which is a big boost for how people feel themselves.

3. Storm surge barrier

On the canal, I found it rather strange not to find on the satelite images any type of storm surge barrier. (for an example of such barriers click here ) It would mean that when there is no storm, ships can pass, but when there is a storm, surge barriers would be closed, so that even if a levee broke in the canal, it would only be a limited amount of water that would flow into the city. It is expensive, but as you can see in the link above, it’s worth it.

I do not know if it is possible to build such a storm surge barrier together with a lock on the Mississippi river. It’s a big river.

I was wondering if it would not be possible to build a massive storm surge barrier at the entrance of the lake. One like this one built in The Netherlands as a response to the floods of 1953. I visited it with my school; it is an impressive sight. It would be expensive, and there will be opposition to it, because the view would change, but it would allow&#8212if it can be built&#8212closing off access of water at times of storm. Meaning that there would be less water there, but it would still be possible for a levee to break. With the bastions in place, that should be less, but then the beach area will be affected. Or may have to be moved.

4. Islands in the city

Hearing about hospitals that needed to be evacuated, and places like the Superdome, that became like islands in the city, it may be useful to take that lesson in mind, and create places that stay dry longer when a flood happens, or that don’t get wet at all. These places would be governemnt buildings, hospitals, and the like. If they could be surrounded with a levee 7m high, they would be safe from water. When connected to an emergency electricity grid, they could stay functional even after a flood. And perhaps in the future they could be supplied by fuel-cell-powered generators, which would use water as a fuel. When a city is flooded, the fuel would need to be cleaned&#8212but there is quite a lot of it then!

5. Emergency-backup energy grid

For this to work when a city is flooded, it has to be buried in the ground in tubes. That way, any building connected to it, would still get energy even when the normal grid is out. This is not unusual. In large parts of the world, the electricity grid runs underground, for houses and the like. So if a separate grid would be in place to supply key buildings with energy, and possibly even clean water, then these could keep on functioning when the normal grid is out. It costs money, but has the benefit that if several of the previous points are combined, hospitals can keep on functioning longer, maybe for the entire period.

6. A underground mini-railway linking key buildings

If key buildings would be connected at each otehr by an udnerground mini subway, then even when the city is flooded, medication and other things could be transported to them safely. As such helping people at that location.

7. A 3-D simulation of the city

With this, things can be simulated that can never be tested in real life.

8. Emergency sewer sytem

This would be like a second sewer system, but that would only suck up rainwater, and close if the internal pressure became high because it was filled with water. It would open again, automatically, when there is less water in it. It could be connected to a pumping station. Inverted valves would be useful for that. But they are not that simple to figure out. It would be like a dredging system that is always in place, ready to be used when needed.

9. Basic Training

It helps when people know what to do. So provide regular training classes, for each individual, so they are prepared, and know what to do. Put it his way, if you come into an unexpected situation, where you don’t know how to act, what to do, you become nervous. You may try things that don’t work out, get more desperate. If you know what to do, if you have an idea of what you can do, and if several things are in place, you will feel better, still distressed, but better.

10. Basic flood kit

Every building in a city, should have one or more basic flood kits, including water purification material, blankets, a first-aid kit, possibly one Portable WiFi/mobile communication device, a thermometer, a compass, and other necessities, so that in case of flood, every building would be prepared. Bigger buildings, schools, and the like would need to have more than 1 basic flood kit. An oxygen bottle, for example.

11. Windows or hatches in the attic

As many people seem to have been trapped in their attics, an imple window in the attic that can be opened, or a hatch, may be of help. Possibly also material and tools that allow them to get through the roof.

II. When the city is flooded and levees have broken

The previous ideas were all things that have to be in place before a flood happens, and are like basic defence of a city. The next lot are ideas and concepts that can be useful once a city is already flooded.

1. UAV’s: Eyes in the sky

When a city is flooded, people can only see so much, and get tired. UAV’s don’t. They can be sent up and cover an area of the city. That way people can be identified, and their grid coordinates can be given to people on the ground. For that they need to have a map of the town with that grid on it. UAV’s can watch the city day and night, and can cover large areas at once. I would like to thank the gentleman who pointed that out in a previous post here, for doing so.

2. Search and rescue UAVs

When hearing about the disaster, I couldn’t help but think that the Skykitten, a prototype version of the Skycat, could be adapted to be used for a search and rescue UAV. I contacted the manufacturer of the Skycat, proposing to modify the Skykitten to such a search and rescue UAV, although I did not expect to get a reply back. The advantage is that if it would made a bit larger, it could be made able to carry people, goods, and look for people, as well as being a comunication relay all in one.

Let me explain a bit. By providing batteries and solar cells; robotic arms, this could look a things that other UAVs can’t. Day or night. It would have on board communications gear, so that it could allow people it finds found to communicate with a central help desk. That way it is easier to find out who is missing, and who not. I had originally thought of using the robotic arms, I’m still working on that, and the electronic eyes, that I have been working on for a while, but of course (and preferably), existing systems should be used.

The advantage of a Skykitten is that it could transport food, water, medication, emergency shelters, and clothes to people affected all over the city. A helicopter can do this as well, but is less energy-efficient, and can’t go down too much&#8212also, most can’t land on water.

Personally I would say that would be best in the hands of the UN, but that will only work if they get their act together and learn to act fast. That isn’t always the case now.

3. Central Relief Helpdesk

There should be a central desk to which all calls are directed. That includes those from the search-and-rescue UAVs, and those from portable WiFi/mobile communication devices. Coupled to a database system, people’s names can be entered, so that it is much easier to find out if someone is still missing or not. The best would be if the database could be contacted via the Internet. As such, it does not have to have a fixed location in the city. The ideal would be if the location would be in one of the key buildings.

4. WiFi comunication backup nodes

Currently with the advance of technology, it should be possible to build nodes that get their energy from solar power, and use WiFi/satellite/GRPS communications combined. They would be used to communicate with the portable devices below. Therefore, communication would be better with those affected, and the social consequence of that is that people will feel more at ease, knowing somebody is watching over them.

5. Portable WiFi/mobile communication devices

A bit like a mobile phone, but would only use WiFi, and would be used at key buildings, and other key locations in the city. It could include a function that would help people guide themselves to the nearest WiFi emergency hotspot. Rather then gving them to everyone, they would be given to a person who is responsible, together with some other people, who have also one, for a hundred people&#8212like the centurions in ancient Roman legions. They would be responsible to keep order, and would be held responsible if any misconduct would appear and they would do nothing about it. Originally the idea was to call them a council of elders. This way order could be maintained, and people helped; it would also be useful to keep communication ok. Communication, is always vital, certainly in events like that.

These devices should not be used to track criminals with, becuase otherwise
many poor people will not want to use them. Instead of finger-print control, a simple ID number could be embedded in them. But actually it isn’t needed, the person can identify him/herself by saying who he/she is.

If they would be supplied before a flood, to each citizen, even the homeless, as something they would absolutely have to carry with them, even with perhaps a fingerprint scanner, like the USB stick in it, then they would each have a unique ID, a bit like tags. If they are water-proof, then, even if a person is found dead, he could still be identified. They would be a bit like a personal ark of Noah.

The data transfer could happen like the way computer viruses spread, and some security systems work. One device gets new data, it then automatically infects/transfers to any device in range. This way it is sufficient to send the new data to a minimum amount of people, and it will spread by itself. It would be first spread other nodes, that would then spread it to any device in range. Security is an issue, but that can be dealh with, through ID codes. I have been thinking about such a system for a while.

6. Skycat vehicle (has multiple applications)

Links are in the titles. 6.1 Emergency relief

It could bring first help to affected regions. With its ability to land on water, and STOL/VTOL capability it is no surprise that the UN uses the 6.1 Transport carrier

According to the website, the first Skycat 220 would make its maiden flight this year, but I have heard nothing about it, so I don’t know. A Skycat 220 can carry 220 tons of cargo. That means that 220 tons of food, clothes, water, emergency shelters could be brought at once to the affected area, as it can land on water. This the equivalent of 3 and half trucks at once&#8212180 tons of goods could be loaded in, and the rest of the space, could be used as a emergency first-aid post. Help directly available, on the spot.

A 21st century airship could be used for that as well.

6.2 Emergency hospital

A skycat 20-220 -1000 -1500 (the numbers indicate the amount of tons) could be transformed into an emergency hospital that would could help people on the psot, and transfer them to the nearest hospital. Like a hospital ship, but one that isn’t bound by water: 6.3 Mass passenger transport One such craft could replace a number of buses, depending on its size, and could safely transport a lot of people in comfort from one place to another.

6.4 Water filtration carrier

Drinking water is a problem in flooded cities. But suppose a water filtration unit, or more than one, would be built in such a device. They could then pump water out, filter it, and provide drinking water, that could be pumped on board, for example, Skykitten UAVs, or UAVs based on 21st century airships. They could then take the water to those who need it. If there would be too much water, more than needed, they could fliter it, and pump it back into the lake and/or the river.

6.5 Technical support vehicle

These days, you see images of helicopters flying with giant sandbags, and you read reports of steel structures needed to close levees, but the equipment not getting there because the water-ways are blocked. Simple. Fly them there. A Skycat 20-220-1000 adapted to lift heavy cargo can easliy lift what is required, stay there, and put all things in place at once, or over a limited amount of flights.

See it this way: a Skycat 20-1000 can lift 1000 tons of material. It could lift the giant sandbags needed, the steel parts, and possibly even that barge they were thinking of using, all at once, and close the levee at once&#8212or at least, far faster than current methods.

Is there a catch ?

Yes. Helium. The supply is most likely not unlimited, so any such craft, should be multitasking. For example:Send a Skycat 220 that comes with a first-aid post, a filled cargo place, and several Skykitten UAVs on board, to a disaster area. The US has, or at least had, a strategic reserve of helium that dates from the 1930s.

Also the logicstics need to be good to be able to deal with large cargos like that. More complicated but not impossible.

7. Let people evacuate with their pets

To many people, their pets are like their children. Asking them to leave them behind, as some reports suggested, is asking them to make a very hard decision. If someone would ask you to leave your children behind, just like that, would you?

Evacuate them with their pets, and they will feel more secure, because there will be someone they know, care for, and that cares for them. They will feel more secure. They will feel better, and that as a result has that most likely they will be more cooperative, friendlier.

8. Remove corpses

This is an unpleasant task but any dead body left in the water, can contaminate that water, and let diseases spread. Makes their identification easier also.

9. Emptying still ponds.

When removing water, pump those places out first where the water doesn’t move anymore, filter the water, and get those areas cleaned. Disinfected, so
that the mosquitoes that can carry West Nile virus, don’t get a chance. Then pomp out the rest of the water.

9. National/international help grid

UAVs and other gear need people to control it. But those people are there, but not used. In a 24/7 system, people from all over the world could work via the Internet, in centers, to control UAVs in a given area from, for example, the other side of the world. That way, they would communicate with the CRH (central relief helpdesk), and this would put less stress on the people in that location, on that country or countries. It also mean that people could go to sleep while people in a different time zone take over for a shift.

10. Use looters to your advantage

See them as helping hand, use the food in the stores to help people, and if looters are present, use those mobile phone with a camera in, to take a snapshot of them, and then get them to help you.

11. A online site Relief site of the city

It would be known to all citizens of the city, where they can fill in a form to let everone know that they are ok.

Any other ideas from other people are most welcome.
Edited: PC

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About Florisv

  • Luc Rolland

    This was one of the first killer hurricane to hit the shores of Norh America. The Yucatan was hit by a similar one afterwards partly destroying Cancun. There are even oil rigs that were heavily damaged being the cause for the important oil price increase.

    As we continue to drive our gas guzlers, there will more on the way and the next ones might be even more powerful.

    This means that we can try to build better safety nests, but we will not avoid the destruction and worst the death toll if we do not change civil security. The way to do it is to prepare better and faster evacuation schemes.

    It is not sufficient to tell the people to leave since, in the USA, with insufficient social help, this leaves the poor in danger.

    The Nouvelle-Orleans disaster shows that we leave the poor to die in front of danger. When will USA be able to take care of the poor ?

    So, now, who is next ?
    Every major US coastal city might be hit.
    A couple of years ago, a very renowed sailing race between England and USA was diverted because of the growth of a major hurrican that almost spread from one continent to the next. If this one would have hit American shores, it would have reached Boston with waves being 20 story high (comprable to the ones in the Perfect Storm movie).

    We then need to prepare ourselves to better evacuation programs done by civil security people being experts in their domain instead of badly converted militaries.