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Swift-Water Facility Revolutionizes Flood Response

by IvyFPS
Swift-Water Facility Revolutionizes Flood Response

A swift-water and flood training facility in the US is changing operational flood response team training by enabling the creation of complex rescue scenarios that are as realistic and challenging as possible

New York State’s new flood training facility owes a lot to recreational water sports. The Swift Water and Flood Training facility in Oriskany opened in summer 2018, combining a traditional swift-water training environment with an urban street scene to enable training in multiple realistic scenarios across the whole spectrum of water-rescue operations. The company that designed it drew inspiration from a decade’s worth of experience creating challenging and unique paddle sports environments for recreational use.

Facility designer Engineering Paddler Designs cut its teeth designing white-water facilities for kayaking and rafting, including Olympic venues, before moving into swift-water rescue and flood training venues. For the Oriskany centre, EPD also drew on the way UK fire and rescue services are modifying recreational sites for training purposes by placing mock building facades and vehicles in the channels.

‘The aim was to reproduce all the hazards, environments, flow conditions and flow variability that teams might encounter in as realistic and safe a training environment as possible,’ explains Andy Laird from EPD.

It was a lengthy design process, starting in 2014 when EPD visited the training department of New York State Homeland Security and Emergency Services with concepts and ideas for a world-leading water rescue training facility. The company proposed an all-encompassing solution that included traditional swift-water rescue training infrastructure but also recognised that the majority of deployments and personnel are in urban environments through the inclusion of an innovative urban street scene.

Swift-Water Facility Revolutionizes Flood Response

The design proposed to utilise the most useful sections of a recreational white-water channel with a lower pond, pump station, gravity-channel system, and Rapidblocs obstacle system to generate the white water for the standard swiftwater rescue training. It then proposed to create an urban environment using the same basic infrastructure.

The Oriskany facility has a 130-metre long, 12-metre wide concrete channel for SRT work, including boat rescue and transfer. Additional props include a side-entry gate to the channel for the addition of a vehicle, and a high-wall area to mimic a bridge abutment or high quay/harbour wall.

One section of the channel, which is popular for many of the activities, is the rocky gorge section. ‘This was created in response to concerns from instructors that artificial channels can be a little too bland and convenient,’ says Laird. ‘So we placed large boulders along a 20m section of channel, on a corner, and concreted them together to form a deeper, sculpted rock section. This also ties across to the high wall area to allow high-line training to take place.’

The main urban street scene has many innovative features. Alongside street furniture such as lighting columns, kerbs, tactile paving, sleeping policemen, and fencing, there are also interactive props such as drainage manholes. It is possible to pump water out through the grating of the manholes to simulate a surcharged drainage system, and the covers can be removed to create an additional wading hazard. ‘A grill located 250mm below the surface stops anybody actually falling in if they fail to find the hole whilst wading.’

There are four floodable full-size properties in the street, two of which have second floors. One has a pitched roof and the other has a high ropes platform linking to a high ropes tower on the other side of the swift-water channel. Household debris, such as refrigerators, sofas, beds, and propane tanks are present in two of the properties at ground floor level, and the pitched roof has a replaceable panel section enabling simulated extraction through the roof in a flood situation.

The street downstream has a low bridge/culvert to replicate a road underpass arrangement or a dedicated culvert rescue with moving water. The bridge also doubles up as part of a high-axle vehicle route around the flooded village where there are submerged hazards for driving and varying water intervals throughout the facility and near more hazardous simulators – that instantly shuts the pumps down and automatically illuminates the full floodlight system if necessary. The lake, meanwhile, features various terraced areas for wading and ice drills in the winter.

‘The provision of the street facility allows more advanced techniques for flood rescue to be taught, not just discussed,’ says Laird. ‘This includes urban house searches, underpasses, hazard identification, extraction from multiple vehicles and properties, as well as advanced techniques including swim rescues in a low-head dam/weir.’

Swift-Water Facility Revolutionizes Flood Response

Geraint Rowlands, a Rescue 3 instructor trainer, paramedic, and director of Swiftwater Training Solutions who was involved in the handover of the site from engineering project to training facility, believes that this kind of scenario-based training is essential for the future of flood rescue. ‘It is the best way to develop operational flood response teams. Without this realism in training, staff are just not properly equipped for the demands of flood response work. The urban street scene in particular means that the kind of scenarios that staff will encounter on operational duties can now be trained for. This is often referred to as intelligence-led training, and means that working practices can be developed and fed back into training curriculums.’

Another experienced flood rescue trainer involved in the project handover was Lawrence Harris, director of Water Rescue Systems. For him, the Oriskany site is the ‘gold standard’ of training facilities because of the opportunities it provides for further development in equipment design, operating procedures and techniques, and improving the operational capacity of rescuers.

‘We are experiencing more regular and more significant flooding episodes worldwide. As a profession, we must adapt our approach to training to match the environments we now find teams operating in during urban flooding. This facility does just that. The low-head dam simulator offers the only opportunity to practically experience the hydrodynamics to match the environments of deployment. It is manageable and highly controllable while simulating the real challenges presented during flooding.

And as Laird points out, from a purely practical point of view the development of such a complex training environment has also enabled the training of more staff, more quickly, and in a more controlled and safer environment than has previously been possible. ‘We hope this will lead to the development of new techniques and training curriculums, and we are now working on a number of projects with fire and rescue services in other countries to create similar facilities.’

For more information visit https://www.dhses.ny.gov/state-preparedness-training-center

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