Hellenic Rescue Team of Attica or HRTA is a union of citizens and a community center, consisted entirely of volunteers that wish to offer their time, expertise, knowledge and personal effort in assisting fellow citizens in case of an emergency. It is an independent, non-profit organization that operates mostly on Search & Rescue (SAR) operations in three main fields: Wilderness (mountains, forests, non-urban areas), Water (open sea, coastline, rivers, lakes, floods) and Urban (earthquakes, floods, tsunamis). For each field of operations there is a corresponding element of highly trained individuals, ranging from level-1 support members to level-4 fully operational members, all acting as a team and tailored to each specific mission at hand.

The Wilderness SAR division is manned with experienced mountain guides, climbers, hikers, 4×4 drivers and support members, all volunteers with the same objective – to help save lives. Predominantly challenging is the “vertical” field requiring technical climbing techniques and special rescue equipment, on which team members are specifically trained and capable of performing the rescue under all conditions.

The Water SAR division is responsible for operations in the open sea, in inland lakes, rivers and floods, staffed with experienced scuba divers, lifeguards, speed craft pilots, sailors, white water guides and support members. The HRTA members often collaborate with the Hellenic Coast Guard and local lifeguards. Our team members have excellent scientific and technical skills, but special training is still necessary prior to operationally-capable certification. After long-term intensive training, our members can be involved in coastline research, and water surface search, by foot or by boat. Experienced divers can contribute to the subsurface research and forensics, using personal scuba equipment and ROVs. HRTA is actively involved in the JRCC (Greek maritime Search and Rescue) action plan and often called upon sea searches for missing boats, swimmers and divers.

The Urban SAR provides the location, extraction and initial medical stabilization of victims trapped in confined spaces due to natural disasters, structural collapse, transportation accidents, collapsed trenches and mines. HRTA has developed a training program both theoretical and practical, based on the international accepted INSARAG and FEMA guidelines and manuals. We always try to involve and receive assistance in our training courses from related field professionals: fire services, construction and demolition engineers and technicians, civil and structural engineers, addressing a wide variety of specialized tools and equipment. HRTA is registered with the General Secretariat Civil Protection (GSCP) of Greece. HRTA collaborates closely with EMAK (Fire Service Special Task Force responsible for SAR) and other Fire-fighting Services in common exercises, training and operations.

HRTA’s involvement in INGENIOUS for testing end-user tools and equipment is focused on planning and executing some core tasks that contribute to the project’s pilots in Spain and France, while additionally planning a small-scale similar demonstration in Greece.

In particular, HRTA is leading the Small Scale Field Tests which will take place in HRTA’s training center:
● INGENIOUS Uniforms and Wearables
● INGENIOUS Boots
● INGENIOUS Field Communications
HRTA will also provide specialized advisory as domain expert to other equipment and needs of the project. If necessary, the team can get into potentially dangerous areas safely and reliably, in order to install sensors, test INGENIOUS equipment/applications, etc. Additionally, the team is exploiting its contacts and access to a wide range of citizen and volunteer groups, such as environmental NGOs and government agencies, in order to disseminate the general idea of INGENIOUS Toolkit.

In order to show how INGENIOUS Toolkit is necessary and useful for USAR operations, two real-world operations of our team can be used as examples on how these new tools can have a significant impact and capabilities enhancer in similar situations.

Mandra: Flash flood

A major disaster that HRTA was called from Civil Protection Secretariat to participate was on Nov. 15th 2017, when an extreme rainfall in North Western region of Attica the Mandra municipality was declared in state of emergency. There were 23 deceased as a result of this rainfall. The whole region was flooded. Rainfall levels were the highest in 200 years for this region.

The urban region was under severe mud piles and this was due to the heavy rainfall, as well as a result from wildfires that took place earlier this summer at the eastern side of Mt. Pateras and, thus, unobstructed floods and mudslide occurred.

Many inhabitants were trapped at their homes, workplaces and cars, so the First Responders were called to first evacuate them to safer places, several kilometres further. 448 buildings were destroyed, the majority of which were houses, surrounded but piles of destroyed cars and debris.

Many inhabitants were trapped at their homes, workplaces and cars, so the First Responders were called to first evacuate them to safer places, several kilometres further. 448 buildings were destroyed, the majority of which were houses, surrounded but piles of destroyed cars and debris.

It took several days for SAR teams to search for and retrieve victims and also several weeks for the humanitarian aid operations.

Mati: Urban wildfire

One of the most devastating events in the recent history of Greece took place on July 23rd 2018. At approximately 13:00’ local (EET) a wildfire broke out at western Attica region, which occupied a large number of firefighters with their respective equipment, as well as many aerial means. Approximately three hours later another fire broke out at Kalitechnoupolis, a suburb located in eastern Athens. Due to very strong western winds (gusting to 12Bft), the fire was out of control and swiftly crossed the mountain with a direction towards Mati village in Nea Makri and the port of Rafina. The deployed forces at the western front could not be diverted on time to the eastern front before much later that evening. The area was filled from inhabitants and summer guests. Additionally, many summer camps for children are located there. Fortunately, an entire summer camp with a group of 620 children was safely evacuated from that area.

The intensity of this particular wildfire was revealed when the fire crossed Marathonos Avenue (20m wide), which has been a barrier for many fires in the past. The fire jumped from one side of the avenue to the other and in a period of twenty minutes the fire has swept the populated area (Mati and Kokkino limanaki) and reached the coastline, close to the port of Rafina. An area of 2×2 km2 was covered by flames and extremely high temperatures, stopping only at the sea. One important issue that has to be addressed is the unique phenomenon that developed in that area by the weather conditions. More specifically, very high winds, low humidity (19%) and high temperature (30 °C). As a result, 102 people lost their lives and hundreds more wounded with severe skin and inhalation burns.

This wildfire is the deadliest in the history of Greece and the second deadliest on a world scale. Only five other similar events world-wide have claimed more lives since 1918. Many people that were that day in the area did not have any evacuation plan in case of such an emergency nor guidance during the event. Many of them tried to escape by car and were trapped in congestion near the shore inside the very few escape routes. Most of them were burned in their vehicles, most of them in one narrow street which was completely closed with traffic jam.

In the aftermath, one of the major issues that were quickly identified as a point of failure was the lack of communication between the authorities. As an example, some of the traffic continued to be diverted away from the fire front on Martahonos avenue but towards the hot zone in the affected area, due to lack of coordination and proper situational awareness.

Mati main traffic jam near the city center (source: Greek media)
Mati main traffic jam near the city center (source: Greek media)    

From these two real-world cases, it is clear that the current technologies have severe limitations that often the First Responder teams and the whole SAR mission in danger. The main issue not yet solved is having continuous situational awareness and knowledge of the tactical factors in a quickly changing environment, as well as the safety of the rescuers, the victims and the resources deployed in the field.

The components that will be created from the INGENIOUS project are targeting exactly these drawbacks. State of the art tools that can be deployed autonomously or as part of a larger group will provide the SAR teams on the field the confidence that the equipment will get them faster and safer into the hot zone and out of it. EG Smart wearables, Boots and Uniforms will get biometric measurements of the rescuer and will have sensors for HAZMAT. This information will be sent to the team leader for continuous re-assessment and re-evaluation of the situation in terms of safety and effectiveness of each deployed team. Uninterrupted Communications will be another major breakthrough, since reliability and seamless coordination between teams and authorities is of vital importance in all phases. Additionally, new technologies embedded in UxVs will increase situational awareness and enhance the teams’ capabilities and safety.

HRTA is very happy and proud to be a member of the INGENIOUS consortium, having the chance to provide its own domain expertise and experience for designing the next-generation tools for SAR operations.

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