Our robots deployed in FEMA search & rescue training

The mission of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) “is helping people before, during, and after disasters.” To meet its objectives, FEMA provides world-class training and education for first responders, emergency managers, and community members. Several Squishy Robotics team members were invited to participate in a regional training session with FEMA US&R CA-TF 3. 

COO Deniz Dogruer, Lead Mechatronics Engineer Douglas Hutchings, and interns Kingston Chua, Jiaqi (Harold) Lian, and Oliver Parkin—as well as a few of the company’s sensor robots—joined more than three dozen Bay Area first responders in a hands-on FEMA confined space training exercise held earlier this year.
“It was tremendously valuable to see the general operational workflow of a FEMA Task Force team, which is usually assembled quickly to deal with an urgent emergency situation, such as a collapsed building,” said Hutchings. “This training gave us a better understanding of how critical it is for a group of first responders, who don’t have the benefit of training together regularly, to be able to quickly organize into teams focusing on separate tasks, all in support of the common mission.”
“In such fast-paced emergency situations, integrating new technologies such as our tensegrity sensor robots into the existing workflow must be done as seamlessly as possible,” Hutchings added. “For the most part, participants had not used—and some hadn’t even seen—our sensor robots before the training began. The experience pushed us to think critically about how best to articulate succinctly and accurately the value-add our sensor robots could provide in an on-going rescue response.”

Squishy Robotics has worked most closely with fire department hazardous materials (HazMat) teams. There is, of course, some overlap with HazMat use cases, but the FEMA training day offered company engineers insights into how an Urban Search & Rescue (US&R) team would deploy and utilize remote atmospheric monitoring during response efforts. During the training the deployment of the 4-GasPLUS sensor payload with cameras into a confined space was tested by lowering the sensor payload beneath the rubble where a victim was trapped. Utilizing the mesh networking capability that is integral to the 4-GasPLUS payloads, continuous transmission of the atmospheric monitoring data from beneath the concreate rubble was available remotely and in real-time to first responders as the victim was extricated. 

Participating in the training also helped engineers consider payload size and and sensor combination variations as well as user interface (UI) navigation and screen improvements and/or additions that would specifically aid US&R teams.

“First responders are the experts about their needs, and each response effort brings its own unique set of challenges and operational conditions,” Dogruer said. “Being able to observe and participate in trainings like this first-hand empowers us to truly keep the end-user and the very challenging conditions in which they operate front and center when we are designing, developing, and expanding our technologies.”