A large team of Naval Postgraduate School students, along with engineers, technologists, and emergency and first responders, wrapped up the latest edition of the Research & Experimentation for Local & International Emergency & First Responders (RELIEF) field-training exercise in Camp Roberts, Calif., May 10.
RELIEF is an NPS-led, field-experimentation program that provides participants from multiple organizations and branches of government access to the university’s U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) Tactical Network Testbed (TNT) to examine humanitarian assistance and disaster response experiments.
“The idea is to create a multi-institutional learning environment,” said RELIEF Director, NPS Department of Information Sciences Associate Professor Dr. Ray Buettner. “Product providers can be briefed by civilians and service members who will provide expert opinions on their products in-person, creating a powerful synergy.
“With RELIEF, the government can acquire products from a knowledgeable standpoint,” Buettner added. “Instead of blindly purchasing without any idea of a product’s capability … You can see a product in action and explain [to the engineers] what you need in-person.”
Others in attendance, such as annual participant and Monterey County Emergency Services Manager Sherrie Collins, believe the event helps participants understand the needs of humanitarian personnel.
“Combining the research and development from a multitude of organizations has and will continue to prove invaluable to humanitarian efforts and those in need of it,” said Collins. “Opportunities like RELIEF allow local, military, government and private-sector individuals a chance to synergize and create a think-tank for the benefit of humanitarian and disaster response.”
The weeklong exercise featured a plethora of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) experiments. One of those experiments featured the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Corps, who conducted field-training exercises in conjunction with UAVs provided by Lockheed Martin.
“RELIEF is giving us the ability to test new ideas, and be able to directly affect change in the products that can help us save lives now, and In the future,” said FEMA Corps Team Leader at AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (San Diego), Ebony McElroy.
“The UAVs absolutely worked,” she continued. “I was able to split my team and maintain communications inside of a simulated disaster area by pinging the UAV. This is substantial because in a real-world scenario, where we would lose cellular communication and visual information, these UAVs would provide invaluable capability to humanitarian efforts.”
The scenarios outlined through RELIEF are proving what UAVs can offer, with faster and more accurate responses possible to humanitarian efforts, according to Jeffrey Sapp, a Chief Engineer at Lockheed Martin.
Originally used by the Air Force in their FPASS (Force Protection Airborne Surveillance System) program, the modular design of the Desert Hawk UAV allows it to be easily re-purposed for humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations.
“Today, we used a radio relay mod which gives us the ability to fly over an area where radio systems may not exist anymore,” said Sapp. “A single FEMA agent would be able to go to the disaster area and launch a UAV within a 15-minute time span … providing hours and hours of video, photo or radio coverage.”