Turkey Earthquake: Israeli Camera-Dogs Help Save 19 From Rubble
It took Israeli rescuers 36 hours to bring nine-year old Rıdvan to safety. He was trapped beneath the rubble of his home in Kahramanmaraş, Turkey, in the aftermath of an earthquake that claimed almost 56,000 lives.
He was the last of the 19 people rescued by the Olive Branches delegation, a team of 150 IDF soldiers who were using a combination of sophisticated radar and canine video feeds for the first time.
Their only regret was that they couldn’t save more, says Lt. Col. Shlomo HaCohen, Head of Development of the Israeli army’s Home Front Command, responsible for international search-and-rescue missions.
“When we returned to Israel, the commander of the delegation, Colonel Golan Vach, called us together, and said: ‘It’s very good that we saved 19 people. I want us to investigate the reason we didn’t save 30.’”
Rıdvan’s 14-year old sister, Romisa, and their father Mohammed were rescued earlier in the week, also by the IDF. Ridvan himself was finally pulled from the wreckage more than 120 hours after the earthquake struck.
“The moment you hear a trapped person who is alive and is asking for help, it’s like a shot of adrenaline and motivation to do whatever it takes to save them,” says HaCohen.
“When we crawled under a collapsed building, we heard Rıdvan with our own ears in the middle of the night, singing and crying.
“The big challenge was that we didn’t know where he was within the collapsed building. Population behavior officers from the delegation spoke with the local population, to determine what floor he could be on.
“When we located him, we used Turkish translators to encourage him and lift his spirits as tens of soldiers from the delegation worked to extract him.
“It was very emotional when we finally removed him from the rubble,” HaCohen tells NoCamels. “We worked non-stop, day and night, until we managed to save him on a Friday night.”
The Home Front Command is constantly developing new technologies to aid its objective. During its mission in Turkey, it used several of these technologies for the first time.
Among them were dogs trained by the IDF’s canine unit (Yichidat Oketz) to sniff out trapped survivors, and bark when they have located one.
They were sent into destroyed areas, equipped with a camera on their chest and a transmitter on their back, which wirelessly transmitted what the dog saw in real-time in areas too small for the soldiers to enter.
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“It was a challenge to develop this technology, because they are entering areas behind several concrete walls,” HaCohen explains. “Even if the dog doesn’t bark, you can see what he sees and understand what has happened.”
The unit also used specialized radars on the rubble of concrete walls, so sensitive that they can pick up a trapped person breathing or moving.
Radars with longer frequencies, developed by the unit in-house, can extend further into collapsed buildings. The Home Front Command also acquired radars with shorter frequencies from Israeli company Camero, which are more accurate at detecting trapped people, but have a shorter range.
It was a combination of these technologies that helped the delegation locate and save nine-year old Rıdvan, and the other survivors.
The Home Front Command also utilized flexible, fiber optic cameras that were narrow enough to enter small holes in walls to see who, or what, lay beyond layers and layers of rubble that were inaccessible by both teams of soldiers and dogs.
And, on several occasions, they employed sensors that used seismic and acoustic tech to detect movement and noises within destroyed sites. If a trapped person could move or make noise, the system would be able to identify them.
But because the sensors are so sensitive, it requires complete silence at the site, so hundreds of personnel and civilians needed to clear out every time they were in use, a technique called “the silencing of the site”.
To create these advanced technologies, the Home Front Command employs some of the world’s best electronic and electro-optic engineers, chemists, and physicists.
The results, says HaCohen, was that Israel rescued many more survivors than other foreign delegations.
“Every individual we have saved is a success, but we always ask ourselves why we didn’t save more,” he says.
“This is the feeling that we leave with. On one hand, with a sense of great pride, but on the other, we wonder what more we could have done and did not do.”