SeaBotix collaborated with several local San Diego agencies in the San Diego International Airport’s Triennial mass-casualty exercise known as AIRX 2011. This event simulated an aircraft losing one engine and running off the airport’s runway – directly into the estuary on which SeaBotix and their Training Dock is located (it was a close one). The purpose was to exercise and evaluate local agency procedures and response to airport disasters.
SeaBotix was initially contacted by Susie Preiser, Manager of Emergency Preparedness for the San Diego International Airport, as Susie was looking for access to SeaBotix’ exclusive Test and Training Dock within the estuary for use in transporting “victims” from the crash site to the triage area. Upon learning more about SeaBotix ROVs, Susie quickly realized their use in the exercise would test their capabilities and lead to possible incorporation of robotics in the county’s disaster response planning.
The multiple agencies taking part in the event included 22 divers from various groups including the San Diego Harbor Police, U.S. Coast Guard, Lifeguards, and others. Two large buoys were placed in the water to simulate the length of fuselage in the water, and multiple smaller buoys simulated floating victims for rescue. Several mannequins were sunk as well as a simulated Flight Data Recorder (“Black Box”) throughout the estuary.
SeaBotix participated in the underwater victim recovery phase. In order to enhance the experience by making it somewhat more realistic, an active-duty Coast Guard Lieutenant with no previous ROV piloting experience was enlisted to perform a search for victims using a SeaBotix LBV300-5 with Gemini imaging sonar and large interlocking jaw manipulator. A few minutes of training and verbal guidance along the way were all SeaBotix personnel offered. Simultaneously, the San Diego Harbor Police deployed their LBV200-4 with BlueView imaging sonar using one of their experienced pilots.
Conditions were ideal for the use of imaging sonar as the flotilla of boats in the shallow water reduced the visibility to less than one foot, and imaging sonar was the only reliable method for identifying targets to recover.
The first victim was recovered by the SeaBotix LBV300-5 piloted by the Coast Guard Lieutenant. The second victim recovered was by the San Diego Harbor police using their SeaBotix LBV200-4. With no victims yet recovered by the 22 divers, SeaBotix elected to “sit out” the remainder of the exercise in order to give the divers an opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities. During that time, a retired Coast Guard Captain was given the opportunity to locate the “Black Box.” This was also his first experience with an ROV. The location of the Black Box proved difficult as several concrete blocks with a similar profile were in the debris field, and it was eventually discovered that the metal box returned an echoing signal that was very unique. However, the Captain prevailed and the 25kg (50lb) box was dragged to the dock using the LBV’s manipulator and tether
Toward the end of the exercise, the Incident Commander requested SeaBotix re-enter the water to locate a victim that four divers had been unable to find over approximately three hours. Transiting about 200 meters and then performing sweeps, a likely target was identified using imaging sonar obscured within a depression on the seafloor. This turned out to be the missing victim, which was located and recovered in less than 20 minutes.
The success and relevance of both ROVs within the AIRX 2011 event prompted Susie Preiser, Manager of Emergency Preparedness to comment, “As Exercise Controllers for the San Diego International Airport Emergency Exercise, we were impressed with the ROVs capabilities for a quick and efficient recovery of the “bodies”, considering the poor visibility in the water. As a result of this exercise, we see the value in using this type of technology for search and rescue operations.”