For Edwards air traffic controllers who work in the ATC tower, the base will now be offering a new way out for these overseers of our airspace, but not in terms of their career field, more like a way out of emergency situations.
As of Jan. 31, the Edwards ATC tower was equipped with a high rise escape system to help its employees evacuate during emergency situations such as fires.
“The High Rise Escape System, or HRES, is a controlled descent device that is attached to a swing-arm bracket that is capable of lowering individuals safely to the ground, via a harness or oversized evacuation pant suit,” said Nicholas Booker, 412th Operations Support Squadron ATC watch supervisor and building manager. “Prior to this, the Edwards tower had no escape system capable of safely evacuating personnel from the top floor and no other system existed to fill this need, so it took a collection of people at the squadron to research and figure out what the best solution would be.”
According to Booker, the HRES consists of a polyester-braid, jacketed cable with a steel core and a permanently attached escape harness at each end.
“This steel cable goes through the controlled decent device, or CDD, over a reversible gear, automatically raising an empty escape harness to the CDD while the other is lowering an evacuee at a constant decent speed,” Booker said.
In addition to the harness, there is also a harness that’s attached to an evacuation suit. The suit and harness are made up of a fire-resistant material that protect the evacuee and connects to the CDD with a high strength carabineer.
“All ATCs will receive training on and use the system initially once assigned to Edwards and then reoccurring training will be conducted every 6 months,” added Booker.
As for why tower personnel decided to go with this system, according to Johnnie Davis, Jr., 412th OSS assistant chief controller at the Edwards tower, the decision was based on necessity.
“Back when this tower was built, there was a U.S. Army helicopter unit stationed here and one of their missions was search & rescue for the Air Force Flight Test Center. They were also charged with rescuing controllers with their helicopters in the event we could not egress the building in an emergency via the stairs or elevator,” added Davis. “Since the Army left in the early 90s, the Edwards Fire Department is responsible for rescuing tower personnel in the event of a situation where we can’t get out of the building via stairs or elevator. The problem now was that the fire department had no equipment that can reach the top floors of the tower. They could only reach us by walking up our stairwell that would probably be filled with smoke or blocked with debris.”
After pointing out this fact to squadron leadership, Davis was asked to research and find a reliable, proven and affordable emergency rescue system that could be used here at Edwards. Soon after, Davis said he came upon a controlled descent device via the High Rise Escape Systems, Inc. website.
“With this system, these inexpensive brackets could be installed on every side of the building to allow the users to choose the best location to initiate evacuation,” said Davis.
“It has instilled confidence in the tower personnel, should the event arise that would leave controllers in need of escape,” added Booker. “There was no other way to escape until now, so this acquisition was vital.”
After the installation, the tower will now have two escape systems used for evacuation and will attempt to secure one more for training in the near future.