The events of September 11, 2001, brought us together as a nation unlike any event since the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Now more than ever, Americans are working together to meet the public safety challenges facing our country—from terrorist attacks, to natural disasters, to everyday emergency response needs.
Texas A&M Engineering is composed of the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES), Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) and the College of Engineering. Texas A&M Engineering is a technical agent of the Department of Homeland Security’s System Assessment and Validation for Emergency Responders (SAVER) Program.
SAVER provides fire/rescue, law enforcement and other emergency responders with comparative information about equipment they use on the front lines of homeland security. This includes market surveys, technology guidebooks, and test and evaluation reports.
As part of Texas A&M Engineering, TTI supports TEEX and TEES by providing test instrumentation, analysis and documentation for SAVER.
The project capitalizes on Texas A&M Engineering’s unique qualifications, internal and external to the organization. “The partnership that TTI has with TEEX, TEES and the College of Engineering, enables each of us to leverage the others’ strengths. By doing so we’re able to conduct research and testing as a team much more effectively than any one agency could do alone,” explains David Bierling, TTI Assistant Research Scientist.
According to Bob McKee, Director of TEEX’s Urban Search and Rescue Division and Texas Task Force 1, the SAVER program recruits some of the best firefighters and police officers in the country to help Texas A&M with the testing and evaluation. “These people are leaders in their departments as well as on the national level,” explains McKee. “SAVER is all about testing by emergency responders, for emergency responders.”
The A&M Engineering team has tested various technologies—including hydraulic rescue tools (HRTs), portable tire deflation devices (PTDDs), and search cameras—vitally important to homeland security and emergency responders. For example, fire and rescue teams use HRTs (cutters, spreaders and rams) to pry open crashed vehicles and free trapped victims. Working in close cooperation, the A&M engineering agencies conducted several tests at TTI’s Riverside Campus facilities, identifying performance differences for six different manufacturers of HRTs. The results will help public agencies make wise purchasing decisions for systems that can have a nationwide annual market value in the millions of dollars.
“Working across organizational boundaries in an efficient, cost-effective manner is a challenge for any project such as this,” explains Don Dickson, executive director of the Texas Center for Applied Technology for TEES. “Texas A&M Engineering’s ability to respond to SAVER project needs with input from our federal sponsor, and emergency responder community, depends on this cooperation.”
A&M’s teamwork also includes evaluation of video inspection cameras. These systems are used by search and rescue teams to inspect holes and crevices in rubble piles and find trapped victims, and are also used by law enforcement officers to inspect vehicles for hidden bombs and drugs.
Last summer, the team worked together to test “spike strips” that police officers use to disable vehicles in high-speed chases. The challenge is to deploy the spikes effectively so that they impact suspects vehicle’s tires, and then remove the spike system quickly to avoid damaging police or civilian vehicles.
Coordinated by TEEX’s Urban Search and Rescue Division and TTI’s Multimodal Freight Transportation Programs, the testing used a tire pressure monitoring device designed and built by Dick Zimmer, TTI’s Proving Ground Manager. Law-enforcement officers from local police departments and TEEX’s law-enforcement driving instructors helped evaluate system effectiveness. One of the systems proved ineffective on dirt roads, and another created safety concerns. Armed with these data, law enforcement agencies can more effectively protect and serve their citizens.
“‘Homeland Security’ is a monolithic term we hear a lot about these days,” explains G. Kemble Bennett, Vice Chancellor and Dean of Texas A&M Engineering. “In reality, it’s the sum total of numerous efforts around the country. As one of those vitally important efforts, Texas A&M’s partnership in the SAVER program is helping secure our nation’s future.”