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National Science Foundation

A Special Report


Immediate Response

Screenshot from video showing unmanned aerial vehicle flying

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An unmanned aerial vehicle operated by Safety Security Rescue Research Center (SSRRC) searches for survivors of Hurricane Katrina. SSRRC is one of the NSF's Industry-University Cooperative Research Centers. For more information, see the NSF press release on the 2005 SSRRC mission.

Credit: Safety Security Rescue Research Center/NSF

Immediate Response

The front lines of a catastrophe are marked by frenetic activity amid myriad hazards. Survival in such an environment can hinge on lessons and technologies resulting from disaster research such as sensors to detect victims in rubble, safety equipment to neutralize toxins, modern building codes to withstand bomb blasts and a carefully planned emergency response to minimize aftereffects.

When a major disaster strikes, rapid-response researchers can arrive on site within days to collect data before it is lost to erosion, vandalism or reconstruction. After the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, U.S. researchers rushed to the devastated regions to assess the wave damage, study reconstruction efforts and determine how to rebuild to withstand future tsunamis.

Such response is familiar to the research community. From Hurricane Camille to the 2001 terrorist attacks to Hurricane Katrina, researchers have raced to disaster sites to learn important lessons before the clues vanish.

Many NSF rapid-response researchers not only study disasters, but also play an active role in rescues by providing both technology and field expertise.

In the aftermath of the 2001 attacks, researchers used rescue robots to search for victims in the demolished buildings in New York. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, members of that same research team participated in the search and rescue effort in Mississippi.

Whether searching for victims, setting up communications equipment or helping to rescue pets, members of the research community can have a direct and vital role in disaster response while gathering valuable information to apply to future crises.

Next: Immediate Response >> Communication

A Special Report Disasters