The use of helicoptersin disaster relief operations David Alexander University College London
The helicopter is a versatile vehicle for emergency operations but: (a) it is notlike a road vehicle, (b) special procedures need to be observed to ensure safety.
It is as important for emergencyworkers on the ground to understand the rules of helicopter operation as it is for those in the aircraft
Accidents are unlikely if proper proceduresare rigorously followed by all participants.
Aircraft characteristics• must be suited to task undertaken• size and power: two-engine model preferable?• range (km) & fuel capacity/consumption• manoeuverability• maintenance cycle and ratio of flying time to maintenance time• communications equipment and system.
Equipment• accommodation: e.g. for patients, medical personnel, rescuers• ambulance equipment (e.g. stretcher, medicine chest, defibrilator)?• motorised winch facilities on board (with winch operator)?.
Crew• pilot (co-pilot needed?)• doctor & paramedics for air ambulances•rescuers: - rosters and availability - set duty period or 24-hour? - time required to notify and scramble crew - call-up procedures• mechanics.
Organisation• what configuration of usage will funding permit? - now and in the future - for aircraft, crew and equipment• administrative arrangements - lease, buy or hire the aircraft? - subcontract the crewing? - type and cost of maintenance contract - stabling, maintenance & landing rights - stated availability (nights/weekends?).
Training is essential for for helicopter rescue work• flight patterns• search procedures (sortie patterns, co-ordination, altitudes)• rescue procedures• frequency and type of training simulations.
Missions• area normally covered - extended by mutual assistance pacts?- period of coverage (nocturnal, holidays?)• flight-path clearance arrangements• preconditions for call-out and rescue operations• coordination with ground.based rescuers.
Hazards: wire-strike (cables notvisible looking down against the ground)• fly 360-degree circle before landing• look for utility poles• do not fly low over ridge crests• restrict low flying and landing in poor visibility• wire-strike protection system (WSPT).
Hazards• fog (blind flying navigation equipment?)• icing (deicing equipment, procedures?)• storms and high winds• darkness (spotlights? infrared sights?)• landing area safety?.
Procedures - Helipads• must not be constricted by buildings, cables, vegetation, masts, poles• identification marks?• stability, drainage, reinforcement?• nocturnal illumination? how to turn it on?.
Procedures - Field Landing• never on motorways• fully supervised landing on roads• prior surveillance for landing on unmarked sites• illumination for nocturnal landings.
Procedures - Safety• emergency landing practice• are maps of utility lines available and up-to-date?• size and weight parameters for loads carried (internal and external)• limiting flight conditions• retraining programmes• limitations on workloads.
Activation of helicopter missions occurs in response to...• emergency alarm procedure leading to scramble• decision by flight administrator• request by organisations affiliated to helicopter service.
Use of helicopters in civil protection• where meteorological conditions permit use of helicopter - reconnaissance missions to size up the problem and needs• where helicopter is best or only available means of transport for - rescues - airlift of technical or medical staff, supplies or equipment - airlift of seriously injured patients.
Risks associated with helicoptersRotors• wind can turn objects into missiles• strict boarding and disembarkation requirements to avoid injuryTemperature• high temperature exhaust from motors can be dangerousNoise• high frequency, high volume noise from turbines.
Human error leading to crashes or incidents results from:-• inexperience of lack of adequate training• fear, leading to lack of cool judgement• deliberate flouting of safety rules• failure to follow specified maintenance procedures.
Meteorological problemsFog• sight navigation impossible in low visibilityRain• thunderstorms can be dangerous• rain can make field landing sites boggySnow• falling or whirling snow reduces visibility• ice forms on helicopter or in air intakesWind• gusting causes dangerous flying conditions.
Landing area• designated: airport, heliport, helipad• not designated: sports pitch, field, road, motorway, city square, car park, etc.
Landing area• must be kept free of obstacles for 50-80 m radius, including objects set in motion by rotor vortices• ambulances and personnel stationed at a distance from landing point• uneven landing spots (potholes, etc.) can lead to impact of tail on ground.
Requirements for landing on unofficial site• no loose obstacles in 50-80 m radius• no suspended wires in vicinity• good illumination (night or in bad visibility)• crowds and unauthorized people to be - kept away at all times - kept under constant surveillance• dry, dusty terrain to be watered down• if possible, not on loose snow• on firm, well-drained ground• on ice, helicopter can twist around (tail-rotor hazard).
How to make civil protection requests for helicopter support• reason: what has happened, where and when• how many people, how much equipment to airlift• are there any injured, if so, what injuries?• is a hoist needed?• are specialized personnel needed?• can helicopter wait at site with engine running (estimated waiting time)?
How to make civil protection requests for helicopter support• clearly describe obstacles in vicinity of landing site• weather conditions (visibility at site, on route; wind strength, direction, precipitation, storms, etc.)• describe landing site• are there emergency personnel at site that can help with landing procedures?• phone no. for future communications.
Hoe to indicate location• geographical coordinates: latitude, longitude (e.g. with GPS)• radial distance by aeronautical radio beacon• refer to objects and phenomena clearly visible & identifiable from air• use clock positions (e.g. at 3 pm with respect to your current position and path).
Conclusion: helicopters are versatile vehiclesof great use in emergencies, but it is impe-rative that strict safety rules be observed.