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New Rescue Tool Cuts through Concrete

Monday, September 26, 2011

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The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has developed a new tool that can breach reinforced concrete in just minutes, speeding assistance to those trapped beneath falling concrete in natural and manmade disasters.


A rescue worker pulls a child from a pile of collapsed concrete. Workers now have a tool that will make the process faster.

When used by fire departments and search-and-rescue teams, the Controlled Impact Rescue Tool could make the difference between life and death for victims pinned below concrete, said DHS’s Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate, which developed the tool.

“When the Twin Towers collapsed on Sept. 11, 2011, one of the most critical challenges that first responders faced was cutting through concrete to get to victims trapped under debris—a painful and tedious race against time when tragedy strikes,” the agency said in a press release.

“Breaching reinforced concrete has long been a losing race when relying on drills, saws, and jackhammers.”

Blank Ammunition Cartridges

Development of the tool began in 2007.

Homeland Security says the tool uses blank ammunition cartridges to drive a piston that generates a high-energy jolt to create a contained hole in the concrete. A series of these holes allows the user to create a hole large enough to deliver vital supplies such as food, water and medicine to victims even before first responders are able to get them to safety.

Designed for both speed and precision, the CIRT concentrates the force of the jolt in a localized area, minimizing threats to the safety of survivors and potential destabilization of the surrounding structure.

The unit can breach a reinforced concrete wall up to four times faster than traditional methods, the agency says. In a demonstration in August at a conference in Washington, D.C., the CIRT broke an 18-inch hole through a six-inch slab of reinforced concrete in less than 3 1/2 minutes.

Department of Homeland Security

The tool broke an 18-inch hole through a six-inch-thick slab of reinforced concrete in just under three minutes in a demonstration Aug. 30 at the Technologies for Critical Incident Preparedness Conference in Washington, D.C.

CIRT is the size of a small suitcase and weighs approximately 100 pounds, making it mobile enough for a pair of rescuers to hold against a wall, yet heavy enough to limit recoil that can cause injury.

Search-and-Rescue Adoption

The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) has already acquired six CIRT units for its search-and-rescue capabilities. S&T also plans to distribute CIRT units to municipal search-and-rescue teams in Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Seattle, Fairfax County and Virginia Beach, VA, and to Texas Disaster City, a training ground used by urban search-and-rescue specialists.


The Controlled Impact Rescue Tool comes in a carrying box.

In 2008, Popular Science magazine named the unit a “Best of What's New.”

“That pleased us, but since then, we've refined the design to make it even more affordable for urban search-and-rescue teams across the nation,” says Jalal Mapar, project manager of S&T’s Infrastructure Protection & Disaster Management Division.

CIRT has now completed all phases on research, development, testing and evaluation. It is currently being manufactured by Raytheon, S&T’s research partner on this project.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Concrete; Health and safety

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