Extreme weather conditions in higher mountains can trigger great dangers – and subsequently, can cause great challenges for mountain rescue services. Technology however can lend a helping hand. Mountain rescue services and research institutes in the border region of Austria/Italy are now cooperating to analyse and optimise rescue technologies and techniques. Experts from the University of Klagenfurt accompany the project using evaluations in the field of electro mobility.

Mountain rescue services have, for generations, acquired a lot of knowledge on how to deal with the extreme weather conditions in the high mountains. However, there are situations in which human strength and the current available technology are not enough. There have been situations for example, when it’s foggy and subsequently the rescue helicopter isn’t able to take off – or when the exhausting descent with the stretcher takes hours.

Four mountain rescue organisations from Carinthia, Tyrol, South Tyrol and Belluno now want to assemble their knowledge and research the potential of new technologies that can be used for mountain rescue operations. The project is called Smart Test of Alpine Rescue Technologies (START) and is supported by local research institutes. In addition to optimisations, IT applications and additional support will too be developed to accurately support people in mountain distress situations. Furthermore, the project also focusses on the coordinating tasks concerning mountain rescues, explains Gerald Reiner, Professor in the Department of Production Management and Logistics at the University of Klagenfurt. Together with his colleague Christian Wankmüller, he is responsible for evaluating the electric mobility and technologies used.

Evaluation

The scientists start the project with a questionnaire for the mountain rescuers. The objective is to find out which apparatus is most beneficial. In another questionnaire, the devices with the ultimate advantages – according to the mountain rescuers – will be evaluated in more detail.

The electric mobility category includes items such as e-bikes, electronic stretchers and different types of drones; such as the defibrillator drone, explains Wankmüller.

E-bikes are already in use in e-parks. In these parks, they are being used by first responders to speed up the rescue operation. This way, important information for the Rescue Chain is already being gathered before the rescue team arrives.

Mountain rescuers often travel for hours in impenetrable areas. Electronically operated stretchers can reduce the amount of force needed.


Deployment scenario

Using the defibrillator drone as an example, Wankmüller explains how to optimise these mountain rescue operations:

The defibrillator drone is superior to the helicopter in two significant ways:

  • its utilisation is weather-independent;
  • it can get to the scene faster than a helicopter when the accident has occurred in an impassable area;

Wankmüller: “In the high mountains, heart attacks are the most frequent causes of death, accounting for thirty percent of all deaths. Studies have shown that the chance of survival already decreases after six minutes. The helicopter takes fifteen to twenty minutes to reach remote regions.”

In the event of a heart attack, the caller can either send the GPS signal via an app using a push message or track the signal via the control centre.

When it comes to defibrillator-drone-missions, there are two different ways of operating. The drone can be used either autonomously or under the supervision of a doctor who monitors the accident through the drone’s screen.

Logistical planning

“Our goal is to optimally distribute the base stations in the area. The less time it takes between the emergency call and the use of the defibrillator, the higher the chance of saving lives,” explains Wankmüller.

The logisticians are also involved in the development of two pilot areas. These new technologies will be tested in Cortina d’Ampezzo and a yet to be determined location in the Carinthia region. “In order to gain valuable subjective opinions,” explains Wankmüller. The following step would be to implement the technologies long-term.


Synergy effects

The project will run until 2020, however, institutional cooperation is yet to be established long term. The aim is to harmonise the training of mountain rescuers and to further advance cross-border emergency management.

The main partner is the Austrian Mountain Rescue Service Tyrol. The project partners are Südtiroler Berg- und Höhlenrettung, Bergrettungsdienst im Alpenverein Südtirol, Azienda ULSS n.1 Dolomiti, IDM Südtirol, Universität Klagenfurt and Eurac Research. The Austrian Mountain Rescue Service Carinthia is involved as an associated partner.

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