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 October 2007
Foxtrot WUN/

Ever wonder who came up with the phonetic alphabet you hear so often in military movies (like “alpha,” “bravo,” “charlie” as clear stand-ins for a, b and c, etc.)? Ever wonder if those words are standardized (does anyone, for instance, use “apple” instead of “alpha” and get away with it?). While the use of words to clearly communicate letters predates the existence of Committee F32 on Search and Rescue, this commitee has standardized a phonetic system for communications in adverse conditions. F 1583, Practice for Communications Procedures — Phonetics, clearly lays out exactly how to communicate letters, numbers, and punctuation marks, and even includes pronunciation keys (“PEER-ee-odd”). Users of the standard are further instructed in how to construct communications verbally, such as saying the word to be spelled, followed by stating “I spell,” spelling the word using the standard’s guidelines, saying the word again, then returning to normal speech. It all sounds a bit daunting, but we are grateful when the first-responders show up at the right address.

ASTM International Standards and Disaster Response

Trouble comes in many forms. Earthquakes, high winds and
teeming rain, tsunamis, acts of war or terrorism — the potential for disaster lurks in everything from Mother Nature to human nature.
Help for disaster victims comes in many forms too. The first thing we look for after the flood, the quake, the act of war, are people — the first responders from neighbors to trained medical personnel,
firefighters and police who rush to the scene. Later, we may start
asking questions about the disaster’s toll: could a structure
have been stronger? How could evacuation or search and rescue operations have gone more smoothly?

One important component of disaster response that helps frame the answers to such questions is standardization. Standards serve as a sort of pre-response, the earliest possible advance guard in
coping with disaster. Several ASTM International committees
develop standards that play an important role in ensuring that structures and people have the best possible chance of surviving a catastrophe, recovery operations run smoothly, and first responders have the tools they need to assess a situation. Here is a taste of some of this work.

First Responders

Since its formation in 1988, ASTM Committee F32 on Search and Rescue has developed 37 standards on equipment, testing and maintenance; management and operations; and personnel, training and education, with many more in the balloting process. Their work gives organizers of search and rescue operations a means to ensure their teams respond to disaster with the best possible training, equipment and management systems available.

It’s clear to most of us that search and rescue personnel usually enter dangerous environments; what may not be so evident is the fact that the interaction between necessary equipment and conditions in those environments can themselves be potentially dangerous. One example of a standard meant to mitigate the hazards of entering a possibly combustible environment is F 1764, Guide for Selection of Hardline Communication Systems for Confined-Space Rescue. The guide provides users with criteria to use in selecting wired communications systems that will meet federal regulations and provide the greatest level of safety to rescuers and victims in environments where flammable gases or vapors, combustible dust or ignitable fibers may be present. An appendix to the standard describes other considerations in selecting communications systems, such as the relative convenience of different types of headphones or earpieces while wearing personal protective equipment, the number of users the communications system should accommodate, and examples of which sites are best served by each of the three classes of systems.

Other equipment standardized by Committee F32 includes climbing and mountaineering equipment. Subcommittee F32.01 on Equipment, Testing, and Maintenance has developed eight standards that can help users mitigate the considerable risks in launching rescue operations in precipitous environments such as mountains and caves. These include standards for climbing harnesses; climbing, mountaineering and rescue carabiners; the labeling of climbing and mountaineering equipment; and drop-testing synthetic rope.

As essential as ensuring the material integrity of rescuers’ support systems is attempting to ensure that rescue efforts are managed in such a way that people and materials get where they need to be in the most efficient and safest way possible. Subcommittee F32.02 on Management and Operations has developed nearly 20 standards for the management of search and rescue operations. This wide array of standards includes a guide for using the incident command system framework in managing civilian search and rescue operations, a practice for marking buildings during disaster search operations, a practice for visual signals between individuals on the ground and in aircraft, a guide for using whistle signals during rope rescue operations, and many more (see the sidebar for another example).

Search and rescue administrators looking to train rescuers for such specialized operations as water or ice rescue can use the standards of Subcommittee F32.03 on Personnel, Training and Education. This group has developed standards for training objectives such as measuring the minimum requirements for water and ice rescuers of differing skill levels as well as those for land and rope rescue.

Homeland Security

The events of Sept. 11, 2001, put new burdens on U.S. local, state and federal authorities as the fear of repeated terrorist attacks and expectations for municipal response increased exponentially and virtually overnight. With the creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, law enforcement and government agency officials suddenly had a whole new area requiring standardization, from emergency preparedness procedures, and building and infrastructure protection to decontamination and electronic security systems.

In 2003, stakeholders in the area of homeland security, including government and law enforcement agency representatives, security experts and consultants, manufacturers of security equipment, national laboratories and many others came together to form ASTM Committee E54 on Homeland Security. Currently, its standards developing subcommittees cover:

• Chemical, biological, radioactive, nuclear and explosive sensors and detectors;
• Emergency preparedness, training and procedures;
• Decontamination;
• Personal protective equipment;
• Building and infrastructure protection;
• Electronic security systems; and
• Operational equipment.

In total, these subcommittees have developed six standards and have more than 50 standards in various stages of balloting.

In 2006, Subcommittee E54.01 on CBRNE Sensors and Detectors responded to a need for the standardized collection of visible powders — such as those found on pieces of mail in the anthrax attacks of 2002 — with the promulgation of ASTM standard E 2458, Practices for Bulk Sample Collection and Swab Sample Collection of Visible Powders Suspected of Being Biological Agents from Nonporous Surfaces. Since the fast and definitive identification of biological agents can be stymied or even prevented by poor collection and shipment of suspected powders to laboratories, guidance for first responders on how to properly collect such samples is critical. The development of E 2458 was fast-tracked due to the urgent need for a reliable method of powder collection, and the standard was completed and adopted by both ASTM International and AOAC International in one year’s time.

Subcommittee E54.01 has also developed standards for chemical warfare vapor detectors and verifying the minimum acceptable performance of trace explosive detectors.

Subcommittee E54.08 on Operational Equipment is another group with a full plate of standards in development. One of this subcommittee’s main activities is the development of standards for urban search and rescue robots. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has been a pioneer in the research and development of these life-saving inanimate creatures and its staff has taken a leading role in the development of standards related to them. To date, the committee has developed a terminology for urban search and rescue robotic operations and is developing standards that will help minimize the risk of using robots in the field and maximize their potential for finding survivors in small and dangerous spaces without endangering human searchers.

Committee E54 is also developing standards for decontamination procedures (such as the control and evaluation of a contaminated site and the decontamination of people), radiological emergency response, the development and operation of an emergency operations center, the selection of intrusion detection sensors and more.

Structural Integrity

National and international codes and the standards cited within them have helped create a remarkably safe built environment. The number of ASTM International standards for components of structures, from nuts and bolts to entire building frames and facades, is too great to mention here.

One tidy example of how test methods help ensure the integrity of a building component can be found within ASTM Committee D08 on Roofing and Waterproofing. This group develops standards for one of a structure’s first lines of defense against high winds and rain — its roof. The documents they develop arm roofing manufacturers and installers with specifications for the components of roofing materials and ways to test roof systems — including asphalt shingles, waterproofing materials and membranes — for weathering, durability, wind resistance and strength.

Among the standards developed by Subcommittee D08.02 on prepared Roofing, Shingles and Siding Materials are those for the wind resistance of asphalt shingles. Standards D 3161, Test Method for Wind-Resistance of Asphalt Shingles (Fan-Induced Method); D 6381, Test Method for Measurement of Asphalt Shingle Mechanical Uplift Resistance; and D 7158, Test Method for Wind Resistance of Sealed Asphalt Shingles (Uplift Force/Uplift Resistance Method), provide alternate ways for users to test that sealed asphalt shingles can resist uplift when confronted with winds up to specified limits.

High-Rise Evacuation

Since fire truck ladders can only reach so high, escaping from buildings that rise to dizzying heights of more than 100 stories during a fire or other emergency can be difficult if not impossible. When elevators are stopped, stairwells are smoke-filled and/or jammed with evacuees, and people with mobility impairments find they cannot navigate those stairwells, the potential for injury and death increases. While modifications to stairwell design have been recommended and approved by at least one code organization, older buildings will not be required to retrofit.

In response to the need for innovative solutions to these problems, several manufacturers have created external building evacuation devices. As with most new technologies, the marketplace acceptance of these devices is partially reliant on standardization. To accomplish the goal of introducing safe evacuation devices to the world market, industry stakeholders have turned to ASTM Committee E06 on Performance of Buildings, which created Subcommittee E06.77 on High Rise Building External Evacuation Devices in 2004.

There are several potential high-rise evacuation devices in development or on the market today. Suspended rescue platform systems are enclosed cabins that move along guides on a building’s exterior. Controlled descent devices employ harnesses that enable evacuees to quickly descend from high stories along the outside of a building. Escape chutes are cylindrical or trough-shaped devices that enable evacuees to slide to safety.

To date, Subcommittee E06.77 has developed a standard for controlled-descent devices, a 16-page document that specifies such elements as physical and mechanical properties, testing and product marking. The group is also in the process of developing standards for other types of evacuation devices.

Radiochemical Analysis of Water

With increased concern about the potential for terrorists to acquire radioactive materials and attempt to disperse them in public water supplies, instruments for the detection of radiation have moved from being solely in the hands of state and federal agency personnel to also being in the possession of law enforcement personnel and other first responders. Understanding that these professionals need a way to quickly and accurately interpret instrumental indications that radioactive material is present in the field, ASTM Committee D19 on Water recently developed standard D 7316, Guide for Interpretation of Existing Field Instrumentation to Influence Emergency Response Decisions.

Designed for the field rather than the laboratory, D 7316 offers users a decision-tree approach to interpreting and understanding radiological instrument readouts. Decision trees are provided for actions to be taken; 1) following the receipt of a pager alarm; 2) to localize a source; 3) to investigate a vehicle, vessel or container; and 4) if neutrons are indicated. In developing the standard, Subcommittee D19.04 on Methods of Radiochemical Analysis aimed it toward local, state and federal law enforcement personnel, and customs and border patrol agents.

Yes, the first thing we look for after the flood, the quake, the act of war, are people. In a way, the pre-response of standardization is also all about the people: the members of organizations such as ASTM International who develop the standards that bring us as close as we can get to secure in an unpredictable world. //