JACKSONVILLE, Fl. (NNS) -- Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Southeast’s Contingency Engineering Response Team (CERT) will head in to the 2020 Hurricane Season with new technology. This year, the team will have a couple of new tools available to help them conduct damage assessments both on the ground and from the sky.
NAVFAC Southeast is responsible for multiple installations scattered across the hurricane prone southeast region of the United States. CERTs are comprised of volunteers from multiple business lines within NAVFAC Southeast, who are ready and capable to deploy within 24 hours in response to natural disasters.
"We are excited to introduce two new technologies that will allow the CERT to perform their job more efficiently and improve safety while they are in the field," said NAVFAC Southeast Production Officer Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Chenarak. "We will be able to receive the damage assessments they collect quicker and with greater detail to allow us to prioritize the necessary repairs to get the installation back online after a storm."
Once on scene, CERTs are broken down into separate Damage Assessment Teams (DATs) of three to four individuals that conduct initial damage assessments of facilities on an installation affected by a natural disaster.
In the past, damage assessments were recorded by hand on paper forms. The DATs would bring the completed forms back to their base of operations, input the data manually on a computer and transmit the information back to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) for processing.
This year, each DAT will have a Mobile Geographic Information System (GIS) iPad loaded with an application that allows them to record damage assessments more efficiently.
"The Mobile GIS provides a quicker means and cleaner way to capture information. One of the big advantages is the ability to take photos and assign them directly to the file. DATs can actually draw on the images to highlight specific areas that need to be identified, which streamlines the process," said Chenarak.
The Mobile GIS is supplemental to the traditional pen and paper forms. The average battery life is eight hours and the ability to recharge daily should be sufficient to support the CERT’s daily mission.
"Our team has collaborated to make the Mobile GIS application user friendly and adds functionality through data synchronization in seconds, compared to what previously took hours," said Chenarak.
This new technology will not only benefit the CERT while performing their duties, but also to region commander’s in receiving timely and accurate data as they work to bring bases back to full operational status after a hurricane.
The CERT will also be able to call in air support this year with the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS). The UAS will allow DATs to inspect taller structures and roofs that may not be accessible due to damage or are not safe to enter. They will be able to quickly cover more square footage and receive high-resolution images and video of the areas surveyed.
There are two types of UAS’s available to the CERT, fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft, which both have strengths and weaknesses.
"The fixed wing system we are using is a very light weight, high endurance system that can be airborne for up to 90 minutes and cover 1,200 acres, which is good for large area mapping," said Project Manager Joshua Coates, who has been involved with command’s UAS program since its inception in 2012.
The fixed wing UAS requires dedicated areas for takeoff and landings, which can be a challenge for the DAT to find in a heavily damaged area.
"The rotary wing UAS can be deployed quickly and is intended for multi-story building assessments, roof top inspections and utility inspections," said Coates. "The system provides high resolution imagery that will help the CERT and EOC identify damage in hard to reach areas."
The major drawback to the rotary wing quadcopter is the short flight time of about 20-25 minutes before requiring charging.
"UAS brings a lot of added value to the CERT," said Coates. "They will have the ability to get a bird in the air quickly when they first arrive and assess the overall area for damage and identify areas that can pose a hazard to the team, keeping them safe."
It is critical that CERTs remain vigilant and prepared for any hurricane season, and 2020 is no exception.
In March, the CERT was able to test these two new technologies during a mock training exercise, designed to simulate CERT operations.
"The exercise allowed team members to get hands on experience with the new technology in a simulated environment," said Chenarak. "They were able to provide constructive feedback, which allows us to make corrections or additions to the software before the start of hurricane season."
After gathering the lessons learned from the March exercise, the team will conduct another exercise May 13 during HURREX to test the changes made to the program.