Commercial, Regulatory, Services

Help When You Need It

By James T. McKenna | March 1, 2006

Emergency Medical Service

In an attempt to apply the lessons of disasters like September 11th, the 2004 tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the Pakistan earthquake late last year, HAI is compiling a comprehensive database of helicopter resources available to emergency response managers around the world.

This is an issue that has been discussed since 9/11, since post-Katrina. What do we have as resource database information?" said HAI President Matt Zuccaro. "I’m very committed to making it happen, because quite frankly we just don’t see the initiative anywhere else. And what better repository for that kind of information than HAI?"

Zuccaro had planned to formally launch the initiative at last month’s HAI Heli-Expo trade show and solicit data from operators interested in participating. But he and other HAI officials have been discussing the proposal with industry officials for some time and the response has been positive.

"Everybody’s just very enthusiastic about it," he said.

The intent is to have a resource that can be used to respond to requests for information or assistance from U.S. and international agencies and organizations involved in managing rescue and relief operations in the wake of a natural disaster or terrorist attack, Zuccaro said. The database would include contact information for the operators who can provide the needed services, the types of helicopters they operate, their location and availability and the capabilities of each aircraft. Those capabilities would include whether the aircraft is equipped with a hoist, can handle stretchers and might be fitted with internal or external firefighting systems. Inquiries initially would be handled by HAI’s staff.

Such a database could transform the response to an incident like Hurricane Katrina, he said. "Rather than registering each particular aircraft or trying to formulate what was available resources are [immediately after the incident], we would already have that information in hand and ready to go," he said. "We’re trying to think beyond the federal level. If a city or region or county or state has an emergency that is not to the magnitude of a national disaster," those officials could call HAI for helicopter assistance.

HAI’s first challenges are to plug operational information into the database, then run some test searches to validate the program’s software. Then "we would make people aware that we are the repository for this and we want to help as much as we can," Zuccaro said. "We don’t think that is going to be too far down the road."

HAI’s next goal would be to find out what types of information federal agencies need from a helicopter operator before each agency can approve use of that operator. "Even if we tell them we have a helicopter and it’s available, they still have obligations to ask certain questions and get certain forms filled out," he said. "We’re trying to pre-vet these aircraft so the only question to be asked is, `How soon can they get here?’"

Zuccaro’s commitment stems in part from work as special advisor to the Eastern Region Helicopter Council’s board of directors in metropolitan New York before he took the helm at HAI. That council has been very active in demonstrating the unique capabilities and availability of civil and commercial helicopters to emergency managers. The council’s members have participated in a number of mass-casualty drills in the area and made some headway in getting their helicopters integrated into emergency planning.

After intelligence on potential terrorist activity led the U.S. to raise the national threat level in mid-December 2003 to "high," federal emergency managers in New York asked helicopter operators for lists of aircraft and crews that could respond in the event of an attack, and for those aircraft, pilots and mechanics to be put on standby to do that. They also wanted–and got–one person designated as the round-the-clock point of contact to activate those helicopters and crews. "We went through a number of exercises that involved pre-registering and pre-vetting aircraft in order to operate within certain airspace," Zuccaro said. "This just becomes a larger example of that."

He stressed that the initiative is more than a domestic U.S. one.

"We’re looking at this potentially for international implications and we will be soliciting information from everyone, not just U.S. domestic operators. What we’re talking about is having a system that’s available to anybody to provide information on all the helicopter resources that might be avail anywhere."

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