Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Latest military technologies help China's quake rescue

Latest military technologies help China's quake rescue
Xinhua | 2013-4-24 9:11:48
By Agencies
The latest development of military technologies, including a satellite navigation system and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), has helped China carry out more efficient rescue and relief efforts after Saturday's strong earthquake.

At the field headquarters of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Chengdu Military Area Command (MAC) set up for quake rescue and relief, many important deployments have been made based on latest pictures of the quake-hit areas taken by satellites, drones and reconnaissance aircrafts.

"From these high resolution pictures taken from the air, we can tell where there are landslides, which roads are blocked and which parts are damaged most," said Zhou Xiaozhou, head of the rescue headquarters of Chengdu MAC.

The 7.0-magnitude earthquake, which jolted southwest China's Sichuan Province on Saturday morning, has left 193 dead, 25 missing and 12,211 injured as of 6 a.m. Tuesday.

So far the rescue and relief teams have responded quickly mainly because the country has established an aerial intelligence network covering a large area and collecting precise information in an efficient way, Zhou said.

According to Zhou, shortly after the quake, the PLA Navy sent out its remote sensing aircrafts from the base in Sichuan to find out the situation of Lushan County, the quake epicenter and a remote mountainous region.

In the meantime, the PLA Air Force mobilized its helicopters and reconnaissance aircrafts to update the situation of the quake-hit areas and guide rescuers on land.

To acquire more geographic information of the quake-hit area and the disaster's damage, the National Defense Bureau of Science, Technology and Industry initiated an emergency space mission to collect remote sensing data of the quake-hit area by using five satellites flying over on Saturday.

In lower airspace, the quake-relief troops have used UAVs to map small-size or narrow locations in the quake zone where manned reconnaissance aircraft could hardly reach.

In most parts of Lushan, the strong quake damaged communication, transport and power supply facilities, adding difficulties for the rescue force who had to trek through narrow mountain roads and under the threat of landslides.

The BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) has enabled land rescuers to communicate among each other and with the headquarters, said Lang Anwu, chief of staff of an artillery regiment under the 13th Combined Corps of PLA Army, which has engaged in the rescue mission in Lushan.

The BDS is China's homegrown satellite navigation system. The country has already sent 16 satellites to space for the system and the BDS is expected to cover the globe with a constellation of over 30 satellites by around 2020.

To help more quake-relief troops, the PLA's General Staff Headquarters has provided additional 260 sets of the Beidou system to the quake zones. At least 363 sets of the hand-held Beidou system have been equipped in the quake zones.

"Each squad has been equipped with the BDS terminal device so that the headquarters can locate them at any time and send out orders," Lang said.

In the early hours after the quake, the transport of injured people and rescue teams has largely depended on helicopters and planes.

With China's indigenous Beidou system, the quake-relief headquarters can not only acquire every rescue unit's real-time location and maneuver but also contact them even if telecommunication is cut off.

Air strength has played a vital role in rescue. Three hours after the quake, a cargo plane took off to ship a national rescue team to the quake-hit area while four emergency helicopter squads rushed to the worst-hit areas to locate and set up temporary helipads.

In the first 72 hours since the quake, the air force shipped about 900 people out and more than 120 tonnes of relief material into the quake zone.

Since roads to some remote townships and villages were frequently blocked by sliding rocks, the Air Force started the first airdrop operation on Monday, delivering food and water for thousands of homeless survivors.

"The efficiency of rescue and relief work is closely linked to the capacity of air support," said Cai Suwei, a senior Air Force officer commanding the rescue work. "We need to further improve the fast response capacity of the Air Force so as to minimize the casualty in natural disasters."

The military medical aid teams have also adopted new technologies to save more lives salvaged from under the debris.

A medical team from the Beijing-based PLA's General Hospital has brought a telemedicine system supported by satellite communications to field operation shelter vehicles in the quake zones.

Within the first 24 hours after the quake, a 12-year-old girl was saved from Baoxing County but her condition became critical due to internal bleeding.

Two surgeons of the medical team consulted on the girl's condition with more experts of the PLA's General Hospital in Beijing through the telemedicine system, who guided the surgeons to remove the girl's ruptured spleen.

One week before the quake, the Chinese government published a new national defense white paper to illustrate why and how the country employs its armed forces in a more diversified way in peace time.

The document stressed that participating in emergency rescue and disaster relief is one of the most important tasks for China's armed forces since it is one of the countries most vulnerable to natural disasters.

China has formed nine state-level professional emergency-response teams for flood relief, earthquake rescue and other emergencies, according to the white paper.

A total of 19,000 soldiers and officers from China's military and armed police forces have been sent to quake-hit areas in Sichuan since Saturday.

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