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New Government-Developed Tool Reaches Buried Disaster Victims Faster

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Image of Rescue by FEMA

When the WTC twin towers collapsed on September 11, 2001, first responders faced a challenge familiar to rescue personnel following major earthquakes – cutting through concrete to get to victims trapped under debris. Tools traditionally used for this task, such as jackhammers and drills, can take a long time to cut through to victims. Often too long.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) set its sights on developing a tool to cut through concrete more quickly.

In 2007, S&T spearheaded the development of the Controlled Impact Rescue Tool (CIRT™), designed to cut through reinforced concrete four times faster than traditional methods. The CIRT uses blank ammunition cartridges to drive a piston. The piston, in turn, generates a high-energy jolt that creates a contained hole in the concrete. A series of these holes allows rescuers to open an area large enough to deliver vital supplies such as food, water and medicine to victims before the victims can be extracted.

Image of CIRT by DHS

Because the force generated by the instrument is concentrated in a localized area, the threat to the safety of survivors is minimized. Moreover, the localized force also reduces the risk that the surrounding structure will become unstable.

CIRT is the size of a small suitcase and weighs approximately 100 pounds, making it mobile enough for a pair of rescuers to hold against a wall, yet heavy enough to limit recoil that can cause injury to the operators.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) has already acquired six CIRT units to add to their search-and-rescue capabilities. S&T also plans to distribute CIRT units to municipal search-and-rescue teams in Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Seattle, Fairfax County and Virginia Beach, Va., and Texas Disaster City®, a training ground used by urban search-and- rescue (USAR) specialists.

In 2008, Popular Science magazine identified S&T’s concrete-blasting lifesaver as a "Best of What’s New." "That pleased us, but since then, we’ve refined the design to make it even more affordable for urban search-and-rescue teams across the nation," says Jalal Mapar, project manager of S&T’s Infrastructure Protection & Disaster Management Division.

CIRT has now completed all phases on research, development, testing and evaluation, and is currently being manufactured by Raytheon, S&T’s research partner on this project.

Images: Department of Homeland Security