Originally created 09/25/01

Team of SRS engineers assists rescue workers in New York



Some Savannah River Site employees are among the heroes of New York in these sad days.

A team of engineers from the site's Savannah River Technology Center is at ground zero, using SRS technology to help search for the living and the dead in the rubble of the World Trade Center.

"I've tried to stay focused on the job and not the reality," said Todd Coleman, program manager for the SRS Law Enforcement Technology Support Center, who has spent a week in New York and soon will return.

"It makes it easier."

As of Monday night, 276 people had been confirmed dead at the collapsed 110-story twin towers, and more than 6,400 people were missing. New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has held out little hope that any survivors will be found.

The four-man SRS team has been in New York since Sept. 14, using a vast array of technology to create, within minutes, new devices that meet needs of the search crews.

Tools at the team's disposal include fiber-optic and infrared cameras, microphones, robots, and "borescopes" - wire-mounted cameras that can fit into holes less than a half-inch wide.

"We packed a variety of different types of instruments because we didn't know exactly what the precise needs were going to be," Mr. Coleman said. "We would take the searchers' requests and quickly assemble whatever device was needed."

For example, one crew needed a camera that could be carried by a rescue dog to search a small, dark, confined space, Mr. Coleman said.

The searchers also wanted a microphone, if possible. And the device couldn't get snagged on rubble that could trap the dog in the hole, Mr. Coleman said.

Faced with the challenge, the team created a battery-powered device that contained a camera, an infrared camera and a microphone. The entire package weighed less than two pounds and was mounted on an elastic collar.

It was dubbed the "Riley-cam" after the dog that wore it, Mr. Coleman said.

The team also helped examine a crater that could be searched safely only from the eighth floor of an adjacent building.

Borrowing a camera from one of their robots, the engineers created the "dipcam." It consisted of the camera and a microphone rigged to a rescue rope and a 150-foot signal cable, Mr. Coleman said.

The SRS team also mounted telescopic cameras in buildings surrounding the collapsed towers so firefighters could survey the massive pile of rubble from afar, Mr. Coleman said.

One of those cameras was mounted in the Millennium Hilton Hotel, which Mr. Coleman described as "surreal."

"There are newspapers still on the floors in front of the rooms, room-service breakfasts half-eaten, everything where it was a few days earlier and untouched," he said. "It's like everything was frozen in time.

"Not only are the towers gone, but the collateral damage in the immediate area is truly not visible from the photographs you see in the press. There are many buildings that are missing virtually every window."

The experience is worlds away from Mr. Coleman's visit to New York in March, when he celebrated his wedding anniversary at Windows on the World restaurant, 107th floor, 1 World Trade Center.

"It certainly brings to light how temporal the things that we believe are important really are," he said. "All it takes is one walk through an office building or a hotel to see personal effects, abandoned, that will never be recovered.

"The outpouring of love and support from the people of New York has just been tremendous. It's very humbling to see the gratitude that everybody has for the workers."

Reach Brandon Haddock at (706) 823-3409 or bhaddock@augustachronicle.com.