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Idaho National Laboratory

Feature Story

INL’s Hazmat Camera wins coveted R&D 100 Award

Contributed by Ethan Huffman,
Communications & Public Affairs
Photo of Kevin Young and the Hazmat Camera

INL engineer Kevin Young displays his R&D 100 award winning technology the Hazmat Camera. View the video.

Two years before the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Idaho National Laboratory engineer Kevin Young was busy exploring the initial ideas for a lightweight, wireless video system that would help National Guard Civil Support Teams respond to terrorist incidents involving chemical, biological or radiological hazards.

Ironically, on 9/11, Young was at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama demonstrating the first Hazmat Cam prototype to a group of National Guard and U.S. Army emergency responders when the World Trade Center Towers were attacked.

"I’ll never forget that day," said Young. "I had just started the Hazmat Cam demonstration when an Army specialist came running out of his office and told us a plane had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers.

Young continued with the demonstration, and just after finishing the demonstration the same specialist alerted the group that another plane had struck the second tower and a third plane had crashed into the Pentagon.

"As I watched media coverage of the search and rescue efforts play out on TV I kept thinking if the Hazmat Cam was further along in its development it would be a useful tool for the emergency workers."

Last week the Hazmat Cam received an R&D 100 award for 2004 and was named one of the most promising new products developed throughout the world and introduced to the commercial market.

The Hazmat Cam is a lightweight wireless video system carried by emergency responders to a potentially hazardous scene. The system is contained in a tough, waterproof flashlight housing, and can send wireless, real-time video images to incident commanders and technical experts as far as 5 miles away from the hazardous area, or hot zone.

The Design Process

Young originated the initial concept for Hazmat Cam under a different project. In early 1999, Young was leading a Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) project called "Ballistic Cam" to create an egg-sized wireless camera system that could be fired from a grenade-launcher and provide real-time aerial video images to military Special Forces. "That project was cancelled in mid 1999 to provide funds for other R&D efforts," said Young. "But, the leftover parts and knowledge gained would eventually be used to build the first Hazmat Cam prototype."

Photo of a National Guard Civil Support team member gearing up to use the Hazmat Cam.

National Guard Civil Support Team Members gear up for an exercise. During the design process, the Hazmat Cam was field tested during real CST exercises throughout the country.

That same year, Ron Delgado from the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah approached Young with a challenging problem - develop a reliable, lightweight wireless video system that emergency responders could use in a chemically, biologically or radioactively contaminated hazardous area while wearing a protective bubble-hooded, full-body Tyvek suit.

At the time, Delgado and his staff were training special military teams on how to respond to terrorist incidents involving chemical and biological hazards. Delgado felt a reliable wireless video system would greatly improve the safety and efficiency of emergency response teams working in a hazardous environment.

Before Hazmat Cam, information exchanged between trained emergency responders inside the hazardous area and the incident commander and technical experts outside the hazardous area was typically dependent on verbal communication via two-way radios. Describing a complex, hazardous scene took a lot of valuable time and the initial entry team occasionally missed relaying important information about the scene.

The Hazmat Cam helps speed up the process of collecting and relaying information about a hazardous incident by allowing everyone in the command center to see what the initial entry team is seeing in real-time.

Using leftover parts and a transmitter and receiver on loan from another department, Young developed the first Hazmat Cam and demonstrated the proof-of-concept at Redstone Arsenal in September of 2001. The success of that initial demonstration paved the way for continued work on the design.

During the design process that followed, Young produced three additional versions of the Hazmat Cam - adding capabilities and learning at each step what components worked best. According to Young, "The real challenge was designing a wireless system that could transmit a stable picture through a variety of building structures while the camera was moving and was light enough and rugged enough to survive use in an emergency response or search and rescue environment."

Today, the Hazmat Cam is in its fourth generation and includes technical advancements such as secure video encryption and a separate transmitter-and-receiver system called Extension Link that increases the line-of-sight operating range up to five miles.

"The whole project has really been a team effort from start to finish," said Young. "It has taken a lot of hard work by a lot of people to go from concept to prototype and then onto working product."

Young credits his manager Ken Watts and several INL technicians like Brent Smith, who worked on the project by contributing the skills required to build the Hazmat Cam prototypes in a very short amount of time.

"Those guys are the best in the world. Being able to work with the same team of technicians and fellow co-workers on this project from concept to commercialization has been one of the best experiences of my engineering career," said Young. "The R&D 100 award is icing on the cake."

Proving the Concept

Photo of emergency responder using the Hazmat Cam.

A National Guard CST responder, dressed in a full-body, Tyvek hazmat suit, demonstrates an earlier version of the Hazmat Cam.

Feedback and field testing was a crucial part in helping Young formulate the Hazmat Cam into today’s version. In particular, feedback from members of the Florida, Hawaii, Georgia and Arkansas National Guard Civil Support Teams was extremely helpful. During 2003, Young and co-worker Yvette Leppert spent the year crisscrossing the country, participating in dozens of emergency response exercises and demonstrating the camera system in a variety of field conditions. Perhaps none was as challenging as its use deep within a three-deck, 150-foot, steel fishing boat in Puget Sound.

The Seattle Fire Department was interested in seeing if the Hazmat Cam system could assist them in conducting hazardous shipboard inspections.

"It was like trying to send out a signal from inside a steel box," said Young. "But the Hazmat Cam system was designed to be very flexible, allowing us to place the initial receive antenna array within the hull of the ship and route the repeater antenna above deck allowing the video signal to be transmitted out of the boat and back to the dock." The system successfully transmitted a video signal from all three decks of the ship.

Young also demonstrated the system at a large-scale disaster exercise in New York City to a number of law enforcement, search and rescue, and military response teams.

After the demonstration in New York, Gunthar Than, with View Systems, Inc., an independent developer of homeland security products, contacted INL. View Systems had previously licensed INL’s concealed weapons detector and was interested in licensing and producing the Hazmat Cam for military, law enforcement and search and rescue units.

After evaluating whether or not to spin-off a company and produce the Hazmat Cam on his own, Young decided to continue his work at the INL. In January 2004, View Systems, Inc. accepted the licensing agreement and began marketing the system as the Visual First Responder.

"Hazmat Cam has dovetailed perfectly with our security technology product line," said Gunthar Than, Chief Technology Officer for View Systems, Inc. "Homeland security is increasingly more important to state and local first responders, and being able to offer the Hazmat Cam commercially has made it easier for them to acquire the technology."

System in Use

Currently more than a dozen National Guard Civil Support Teams, law enforcement agencies, and fire departments across the country, including the INL’s fire department, are using the Hazmat Cam to increase safety and shorten response time during incidents involving chemical, biological or radiological hazards, as well as for search and rescue purposes. The system is also being used to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.

According to Dave Johansen at View Systems, Inc., the Hazmat Cam has a bright future.

"Technology is only going to advance this system," said Johansen. "We are already working on new ways to mount the camera system to clothing and vests for urban search and rescue units and SWAT teams."

As for Young, he remains busy working on ideas for two new inventions that will help increase the safety and effectiveness of both military and civilian emergency responders while working in hazardous locations.

Technical: Kevin Young, (208) 526-1782, Send E-mail
Technology Transfer: Tom Harrison, (208) 526-1710, Send E-mail