DC-ARM Marks the Wave of Future Damage Control


3/25/2002 - 19-02r
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(ex-USS Shadwell MOBILE, Ala.) ­ "Missile hit, starboard side! We have major fires in the Communications Center, Crew Living and Combat Information Center; firemain rupture, second deck starboard passageway; Auxiliary Machinery Room Number One flooded, with progressive flooding into Main Machinery Room Number One!"

The alarm resonates in Damage Control Central as computer screens light up, identifying fires and flooding throughout the forward section of the ship. Before anyone can fathom the impact of the damage, sensors cause the damaged compartments to be sealed off by automatic fire and flooding boundaries. A computer then begins providing suggestions to the Damage Control Assistant (DCA) as to a recommended course of action. All within a matter of seconds.

It's something right out of science fiction. Fans of Star Trek have seen instantaneous damage reports being fed to the captain of the fictional starship Enterprise for years. Soon though, that capability will be available on the aircraft carrier of the same name, along with every other ship in the U.S. Navy.

It's called Damage Control-Automated Reduced Manning (DC-ARM), and while one of the driving factors behind the system was to reduce the cost of ownership of future Navy combatants by reducing crew size, it's become much more.

"DC-ARM started out with one purpose, and that was to create a situation where we could reduce the amount of manning per ship," said Chief Warrant Officer James E. Buchanan, an engineering technician with the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), where DC-ARM is being developed. "It's gone a little bit further than that now. It's gone to the point where not only have they been able to develop systems to reduce the amount of personnel it takes to operate a damage control team, it also enhances the survivability of the ship. The systems just create an atmosphere for damage control to be more effectively used aboard ships."

Sponsored by the Office of Naval Research and managed by the NRL's Navy Technology Center for Safety and Survivability, the DC-ARM program is a multi-tiered effort designed to evaluate and demonstrate incremental reductions in damage-control manning, corresponding to increases in automation and doctrine improvement through scientifically based experimentation. The DC-ARM technologies selected include:

--Water mist for fire suppression and containment
--Sensors for fire detection and fire characterization
--Firemain distributed controls (Smart Valves) for robust, survivable isolation of fireman ruptures
--Smoke ejection system for clearing smoke on the D.C. deck
--Access closure monitoring to improve situation awareness
--Video installed in most spaces for compartment monitoring and to reduce investigation workload
--Supervisory Control System (SCS) to enable effective situation awareness and overall control of the D.C. response
--New doctrine developed to integrate with new technologies

The DC-ARM system begins with sensors placed throughout the ship that monitor everything from smoke and heat levels in a compartment to water levels, feeding that information to computers in D.C. Central so that watchstanders can monitor that status of every compartment on the ship from one central location, with instantaneous input. The sensor input is also re-enforced with video feeds from around the ship; if sensors register damage to a section of the ship, in addition to those compartments lighting up on computerized plotting boards, D.C. Central also gets instant, real-time pictures of the compartments to enhance decision-making. The Supervisory Control System in D.C. Central also give the DCA automated recommendations on how to most effectively deal with the situation, further enhancing the decision making process.

The DC-ARM technology was put through its paces during demonstrations that included both peacetime fire scenarios and wartime damage scenarios. The wartime damage scenarios replicated the damage expected from an anti-ship missile hit, one of the most stressing damage control events. The wartime damage included structural damage, damage to accesses, fireman damage, damage to sensors and control systems, major fires, smoke and flooding. Fleet personnel actively took part in the live fire and flooding tests to exercise the DC-ARM systems and reduced manning doctrine in a realistic shipboard damage environment.

During system testing aboard ex-USS Shadwell (LSD-15), a decommissioned Navy ship moored in Mobile Bay that now serves as the Navy's full-scale damage control research, development, test and evaluation platform, one of the elements evaluated was the DC-ARM Supervisory Control System. The SCS is a hierarchical distributed-control system that provides a user interface for displaying D.C. sensor information, pre-hit damage prediction, video, door closure, automated decision aids and automated actuation of D.C. systems.

Lt. Cmdr. Mike Giannelli experienced the SCS first-hand as he played the role of the DCA during the tests and demonstrations. "Some of the things I see that are improvements are some of the recommendations that the system automatically gives you," Giannelli said. "The automated plotting from the sensors ­ not from a human intervention sort of thing ­ gives you more accuracy. Whether it's manual plotting on the old D.C. boards or manual plotting on a computer, it still relies on human interface, so there's always a chance of doing it wrong. That information, combined with the video, provides you proper information, so you don't always have to rely on that human interface. If it says it's cool in there or hot in there, and you look at the video and it either shows the fire or shows that the water mist was activated, and you can see the space temperature, it makes sense. So all that information is available there to you."

"The DCA has a wide range of sensors and other capabilities such as video that provide him with real-time actual insight into the casualty," said Ryan Downs, an engineer with MPR Associates, just one of several contractors involved with the development of the new system. "This allows him to have a better understanding of what's going on, as compared to the traditional way that focused more on investigators running around providing verbal reports via radio about what they were seeing. In this new format, the DCA can get a much quicker response and a more complete picture based on the computer synthesis of the temperature data, smoke data and live video."

"Normally you have a checklist," said Giannelli. "You get a report of a fire you look at the checklist and you order those things. Well, now the system does it for you."

"The advantage is a quicker response time to contain the casualty," Downs noted. "Whatever actions the DCA would normally begin 10 or 20 minutes down the road waiting for investigators to report back, he can begin the actions almost immediately."

One of the most critical elements of dealing with a shipboard casualty, especially in the case of major fires, is setting boundaries to keep the damage from spreading. If the casualty can be contained within five-to-10 minutes, then combating the fire will be easier. "Most casualties are very beatable when appropriate action is taken within a short period of time," Downs said. "If you can dispatch personnel and maintain boundaries within the first five minutes, you're almost guaranteed to minimize the spread of the fire. Most ship casualties that have gotten out of hand were because it took too long to get the initial damage control response on scene, which allowed the fire to spread, and when you're beginning to attack a larger fire, you're starting already with one foot in the hole."

Traditionally, personnel are dispatched to the scene to set manual boundaries; often this takes longer than the five-minute window, and it also puts lives at risk by sending them in to a potentially hazardous environment. But not with DC-ARM.

"The majority of the boundaries in this system can be maintained with water mist, a high-pressure, fine-water spray system monitored and controlled by the Supervisory Control System," Downs said. "The DCA only has to use one or two people to complete the fire boundary, as opposed to the traditional way where he was required to use 10 or 12 people to maintain containment around the fire.

Once the fire is contained, attack teams can begin fighting the fire in the primary damage area. During the testing of DC-ARM, firefighting teams from USS Ticonderoga (CG-47) had the challenge of putting out the blazes set throughout the Shadwell. Since one of the goals of the Shadwell testing team is to make the damage control scenarios as realistic as possible, the crew from Ticonderoga was in for some of their most intense and realistic experience ever.

"This is probably some of the best training these guys are going to get, the closest thing to a real-life shipboard fire," said Lt. Cmdr. William Hesse, Ticonderoga's Executive Officer and one of the hose-handlers during the testing. "It exceeds any trainer that we have right now, just from the realism standpoint."

Hesse was also impressed by the performance of the DC-ARM system. "Certainly the systems we tested here, such as the water mist system, are a viable option, and from what we observed, probably a great way to go, definitely the wave of the future," he said. "I definitely think the incorporation of these systems will allow ships to decrease manning, which will certainly be a cost-saver, but also while decreasing manning, when these systems are installed, the ships are going to be safer."

Also included in the DC-ARM system is smart-valve technology. Sensors in the valve detect sudden changes in flow, registering a break and potential flooding. The valves then automatically close or open, isolating the damaged section and rerouting flow so critical systems ­ such as firemain ­ remain fully functional.

"What we're demonstrating is a culmination of years of teamwork," said Capt. Douglas Rau, NRL Commanding Officer. "Funding came through the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Office of Naval Research and the Naval Research Laboratory ­ with NRL coordinating the effort ­ so the warfare centers and a whole series of contractors could support the design of future ships to have an advanced capability in damage control with a smaller crew. Even if we aren't restricted to the smaller crew, I believe what we've demonstrated is advanced capability so we have a better capability of defending ourselves.

"What they've demonstrated is a much smaller crew than I was ever used to in damage control, and they're doing a much more efficient job of combating fires and combating flooding," Rau continued. "All of this is very reassuring that we're going in the right direction for our ships of the future and for our ships in the fleet today, to give our sailors a better capability to respond to damage control."

"We're trying to accomplish a general wholesale improvement in ship survivability and recoverability from a damage control standpoint, even chemical and biological, and of course fire and flooding aspects," said Dr. Fred Williams, Ph.D., who is the Director of the Navy Technology Center for Safety and Survivability and Technical Director of the ex-USS Shadwell. "We certainly hope it improves their ability to go in harms way, improves the ship's ability to fight and to recover, and most importantly, decreases the loss of life in damage situations." -- JOC David W. Crenshaw, USNR



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