Canines play an important role in emergency response by assisting with search-and-rescue operations. Dogs employ superior senses to track down victims and reach locations that may be inaccessible for humans. Veterinary Partner noted that rescue teams need more trained dogs-and-handler pairs to share duties during emergencies and improve victims’ chances for survival.
Before they can be sent into the field, dogs must undergo standard search-and-rescue training. According to the National Association for Search & Rescue, it typically takes about one year of training for dogs to be ready to complete missions with their handlers. That shared experience can pave the way for both parties to quickly adopt new methods and equipment.
Sensors improve a dog’s contribution to disaster response
Technology helps enhance natural canine abilities to make them even more valuable during a crisis. Alper Bozkurt and David Roberts, researchers from North Carolina State University, modified a standard dog harness with sensors to effectively collect and transmit information from a disaster scene. The high-tech harness monitors the environment and the dog’s health, and features a vibration device and speakers so handlers can communicate and control movement from afar.
The Bozkurt-Roberts harness helps keep dogs safe. When K-9 units are called upon to act in an emergency, dogs must be ready to explore a range of dangerous terrains. Handlers who want to avoid exposing dogs to hazardous materials on a scene will be able to adjust harness sensors to fit the given situation and remotely direct their dogs away from the danger.
“We’re developing a platform for sensors that is designed to be plug-and-play, allowing emergency responders to further customize the harness,” Bozkurt said. “For example, if there’s the possibility of a natural gas leak, you could attach a natural gas sensor. Or if there’s the possibility of radiation, you could attach a Geiger counter.”
Cyber-physical systems leverage every strength
The researchers are participating in an effort to improve emergency response through a coordinated effort by humans, robots, drones and dogs. The Smart Emergency Response System (SERS) was an entry in NIST’s SmartAmerica Challenge, a technology contest to explore the benefits of interconnected cyber-physical systems, sometimes called the “Internet of Things.” One of two dozen projects built by 100 organizations, SERS was demoed at a SmartAmerica expo last month in Washington, D.C.
The technology isn’t intended to displace the skills of either the handler or dog during an emergency, nor will it depreciate the power and efficiency of other technology. Like humans, however, dogs possess a cognitive advantage over robots and are more mobile. Most importantly, dogs can act as a comfort when victims are found. Augmenting their natural senses of smell and hearing with sensors can keep dogs safe by providing additional context to humans who do not need to follow them on rugged terrain.
Technology and training increase the safety and effectiveness of all involved. Dogs must be trained to respond appropriately to these gentle nudges of the harness vibrations, and the personnel around them need to know how to discern the importance of the transmitted data. By working with the technology, search-and-rescue teams can save more lives.
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