Technical Rescue

Florida Task Force 4 (FL-TF4) Joint USAR Exercise Incorporates U.S. National Grid and Mission Manager Incident Command Software

USAR: Maps during tornado response

It’s as real as it gets: A tornado rips through Lakeland, Florida, leveling a campground, destroying a building and toppling multiple vehicles with “victims” trapped in torn and twisted wreckage. Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams work side-by-side as they come to the aid of the trapped victims, using hydraulic cutters, saws and spreaders to rip through roofs and crushed doors. Meanwhile, helicopters and drones fly overhead to access the damage and pinpoint the location of the victims.

Fortunately for Lakeland, the large-scale disaster was a 24-hour joint exercise designed to put first responders to the test – namely USAR teams from the Florida Task Force 4 (FL-TF4) and the Lakeland Fire Department. Luckily, the victims were role-players and mannequins, and the campground was a paint-ball field.

RELATED: The U.S. National Grid: Read Right, Then Up | Technical Rescue: On the Ground in Moore (OK) After the Tornado  

It was FL-TF4’s annual mobilization exercise, called MOBEX 2015, held October 6 to test the readiness levels of the USAR teams.  The exercise focused on all aspects of the deployment, not just on the skills of individual members and teams but also on the logistics, preparation and planning for a catastrophic event.

At the command post, Mission Manager’s Web-based incident management system was used to coordinate team assignments, provide status of the search areas, and indicate the locations of the victims using the U.S. National Grid System, or USNG.

USGN: The National Standard for Land SAR Operations

USNG is a nationally consistent geo-referencing tool that provides user-friendly position referencing on gridded digital and/or paper maps with pinpoint accuracy. Derived from the Military Grid Reference System, USNG is an intuitive, alphanumeric system that is used for wide-area searches, but could equally well identify the front or back door of a home or business.

Serving as a standard language of location for Search and Rescue (SAR) personnel and multiple agencies, USNG is federally mandated for land SAR operations to ensure first responders avoid multiple searches of the same area.

This universal map index improves interoperability among first responders at all levels – from federal, state and local government – which is vital during large-scale natural disasters that involve multiple agencies.

Responders at a training center.

The Mission Manager Connection

During MOBEX 2015, the search area boundary was first plotted on Mission Manager’s mapping layers prior to squad deployment. Then, as the wide-area search progressed, squad leaders would radio the truncated USNG coordinates of each victim found, which was then plotted on the Mission Manager map, according to Al Studt, USNG subject-matter expert and FL-TF4 Communications Specialist.

“Everyone who saw Mission Manager in action at the command post was impressed – it is a great tool.  They were particularly impressed by the fact that it was so easy to use,” said Studt, who also uses Mission Manager to teach USNG classes.

Mission Manager provides a team-based operational environment for day-to-day tasks, allowing administrators to easily manage personnel and asset records. It also serves as an online command center during incidents or planned events.

When used in the field, Mission Manager enables incident commanders to create, assign and track team member tasks, and see a real-time picture of every event that transpires on mission maps. Administrators can drop markers onto the map to identify major items, such as the command post, lost subject information, clues and staged equipment.

Administrators can draw lines to represent team assignments or other paths; and also provide area sectioning of custom-drawn areas using polygons, circles and pies. Every change to every field in Mission Manager is automatically logged and can be instantly exported as NIMS ICS compliant reports.

The USNG-Mission Manager Integration

USNG was fully integrated into Mission Manager in 2011 thanks to Studt, who among his other roles, is a Lieutenant with Canaveral Fire Rescue.  The Grid can also be accessed via GPS receivers and smart phone apps.

An initiative of the nonprofit Public XY Mapping Project,  USNG was released as a standard by the Federal Geographic Data Committee in 2001. The Grid was later adopted by FEMA in 2009 due to the confusion among first responders during Hurricane Katrina.

During missions, air assets typically use latitude and longitude coordinates but are required to switch to the Grid when interfacing with USAR. The degree of precision is determined by the number of digits in the coordinates (i.e., 23 67 = 1,000 meters, 23451 67345 = 1 meter.

Studt noted that USNG’s user-friendly coordinate system allowed for improved efficiency during MOBEX.  “By using USNG, we only had to transmit 8 digits [to indicate a victim’s location] – compared to much longer character strings, nearly 16 digits, that are inherent with Lat/Long,” said Studt.

To learn how to use the Grid – in only 8 minutes – watch the USNG video in the Search Video Series, produced by the Iowa Task Force 1 (IA-TF1). In the Module 5, viewers can learn how to access USNG, read coordinates and find locations on a topographical map. Or visit USNGCenter.org

To see dramatic drone imagery of the exercise, check out the Center for Disaster Risk Policy’s (CDRP) Facebook Post. CDRP provided the UAS video imagery, geotagged photos, ortho-rectified maps with USNG grids, and live video to the team leaders and planners.

For more details on MOBEX 2015, see The Ledger newspaper article by Kaitlyn Pearson, who reported live from the scene via Twitter.

To learn more, visit www.missionmanager.com