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 Companies Repackage Military Products for Disaster-Relief, Rescue Applications 



 By Harold Kennedy


In 2005, it became clearer than ever that, whenever major disasters strike, the military services are going to be called upon to help save lives, protect property and provide emergency food, shelter and first aid.

As a result, products typically sold to military customers for use in combat are being re-marketed for disaster-relief operations.

One area of particular interest is command-and-control, such as deployable systems that allow the military services to communicate with civilian first responders.

Among the suppliers vying for a share of the military's disaster-relief budget is General Dynamics C4 Systems, of Scottsdale, Ariz. The company developed a "unit operations center" that was originally designed for the Marine Corps but also could be used to improve communications in the wake of a natural disaster.

The center comes with large tents, trailers, radios, power generation and other tactical hardware necessary for field operation. It can be set up within 40 minutes, said Kevin Chapman, General Dynamics' program manager. In fact, he told National Defense, nine of them have already been deployed to Iraq, and "34 more are being deployed even as we speak."

Although the center has not yet been deployed on a humanitarian mission, it would be very useful, said Kevin Holt, the project lead for Marine Corps Systems Command at Quantico, Va. "What the Marines like about it is that it's a collaborative system," he said. "They can share data and make decisions two to three times faster than with older systems."

Marine units deployed to the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina "asked us if we could get something down there real quick," Holt said. "But we didn't have anything available at the time, and they weren't trained to use the equipment anyway."

General Dynamics, however, is talking with other services about fielding the centers, said Scotty Miller, the company's director of integrated electronics and sensor systems. Discussions also have taken place with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he said.

"Imagine if they had something like this down in New Orleans," Miller said. The National Guard, police and first responders "all have their own command-and-control systems. This system can talk to all of them."

Thales Communications Inc., of Clarksburg, Md., is trying to position its highly successful military handheld radio as a product that could be useful in disaster relief. The AN/PRC-148 Multi Band Inter/Intra Team Radio (MBITR) was developed originally for the U.S. Special Operations Command, but it now is being used by units from all of the services, said Thales Business Development Manager Andrew Bostock.

The MBITR is a ruggedized, handheld, waterproof radio for units as small as a four-man fire team. "It also can talk to civilian radios," Bostock said. "Military units on the ground on the Gulf Coast probably used this radio."

To help civilian communication during the Gulf Coast recovery, Thales provided the Department of Homeland Security with another handheld radio, the Thales 25. It is the smallest, lightest and most rugged Project 25-compliant portable digital radio available for civilian government use, said Thales Public Safety Manager Steve Nichols. Project 25 is the industry standard for interoperable government and public-safety communications, he added.

The Thales 25 provides secure digital communications and interoperability links to local first responders using legacy analog equipment, Nichols said. Like the MBITR, it is waterproof.

The KMW1030 Manpack amplifier-made by AR Worldwide, of Bothwell, Wash.-extends the range of tactical radios even under the harshest of conditions, said Sales Manager Mike Katzer. "It extends a radio's range three to five times," he said. "It's rugged; it's waterproof. Guys jumping off a boat into floodwaters don't have to worry. It's no big deal."

AR Worldwide has sold 1,000 of the amplifiers to the Army, Navy and Marines, Katzer said. "We should be talking with FEMA about which radios they're using and which ones they're having trouble with," he added.

Other products that traditionally are marketed to military customers but now are finding applications in disaster relief include the Onyx autonomously guided parachute system, made by Atair Aerospace Inc., of Brooklyn, N.Y. It could help deliver relief supplies to isolated disaster victims, said Rick Zaccari, the firm's marketing and sales manager.

Onyx systems are guided parafoils designed to allow military cargo to be parachuted from high altitudes some distance away from the target and land accurately. Payloads range from as small as two-pound ground sensors to 2,200 pounds of meals, ready to eat. The parafoils can be dropped from an altitude of 35,000 feet, glide for more than 30 miles and land within 150 feet of their target, Zaccari said.

Handy for rappelling down steep mountain slopes or high-rise buildings is a family of ropes made by a small firm called Blue Water, of Carrolton, Ga. One rope-the 8 mm Canyon Pro-has a core that is 100 percent Dyneema, a synthetic material used in body armor, explained Scott Newell, the company's research and development director.

The rope, used by Navy sea, air and land teams, can support a load of 433 pounds, and a length of 200 feet weighs less than six pounds.

Prepositioned military trucks, pallets and other equipment-waiting for a hurricane to pass through-are as vulnerable to damage as any civilian property, but they can be protected by a system called the Transhield vapor corrosion inhibitor, according to Bill Lowery, Transhield's government sales manager, based in Jacksonville, Fla.

The Transhield system is three layers of packaging custom-fitted to the object being protected. The outside layer is a ultra-violet resistant polyethylene shrink stretch film. The middle layer is a hot-melt adhesive. The inner layer is hydro-entangled, non-woven polyester.

This combination keeps the covered object 10 to 15 percent cooler, supports up to two feet of snow, "and rain is not going to get through," Lowery said.

The Transhield system is being used to protect 68 amphibious assault vehicles and 58 tanks at the Camp Lejeune, N.C., Marine base, he said. "A lot of that equipment was left behind when the Marines went to Iraq." Without the Transhield system, Lowery said, it would have been left exposed to the elements.

Many of the challenges facing rescue teams in a natural disaster involve personal health and hygiene. Finding drinkable water, for example, frequently becomes an issue.

Hydration Technologies Inc., of Albany, Ore., has come up with an emergency water-filtration bag, called the X-Pack, that can turn muddy, contaminated water into a clean Gator Aid-like liquid that is safe to consume, said Account Executive Mark C. Timmons.

The X-Pack is a two-chambered bag that uses a forward osmosis process to pull contaminated water into a filter core, Timmons said. There, the water mixes with a sports-drink syrup that rejects viruses, bacteria and other contaminants that can cause dysentery, diarrhea and other diseases, replacing them with nutrients that can help relieve dehydration. The cleansed liquid then flows into the second chamber, where it is safe for drinking.

The X-Pack is used by U.S. military units in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa, Timmons said. Nearly 25,000 of them were deployed to U.S. military units responding to the Gulf Coast disaster.

After a few days in the field without the benefit of a shower, even the most fastidious team member becomes sweaty and smelly. A textile and chemical manufacturer, Milliken & Company, of Spartanburg, S.C., has developed a fabric designed to provide longer lasting odor control and moisture management.

The fabric, called VisaEndurance, is made of an antimicrobial material, said Bruce LaFlam, the company's business-development manager for military fabrics. The material works by preventing the growth of bacteria, which cause odor, LaFlam said. It is lightweight, soft and breathable, he said.

VisaEndurance is being used primarily for T-shirts right now, LaFlam said. The Marines ordered 25,000 of them in the summer of 2005.

Another major challenge in the aftermath of a natural disaster is providing temporary toilet facilities for thousands of victims and relief workers. Traditional latrines can present serious environmental, sanitation and even privacy problems.

Phillips Environmental Products Inc., of Belgrade, Mont., is marketing a portable toilet system that avoids many of these issues, said Brian Phillips, the firm's vice president of sales and marketing.

"This is not your father's latrine," he said.

The PETT system includes a plastic toilet, 20 waste kits, a six-foot-by-six-foot tent that serves as privacy shelter and a backpack to carry it all. Each waste kit comes with a zip-close disposal bag, a hand sanitizer, toilet paper, a waste-collection bag and a powder that converts human waste from liquid to solid and is approved for landfills. It requires no water.

The system sets up on seconds, folds and stores quickly, said Phillips. It weighs 18 pounds.

Phillips shipped 2.5 million of the systems to FEMA for use after Katrina, he said.

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