AND INVESTIGATION SPECIAL"
Car Crash Testing
Panama Protection Racket
Fight A Fire - Save The Ozone
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) In New York, the cops that cops call when
they need help come from the Emergency Services Unit. Today,
they're trained not only by rescue and weapons experts, but
by psychiatrists, too. One of the stories in an hour devoted
to the science of emergencies.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) We'll also see an ant rescue squad called
by caterpillars in trouble. How a murder was solved by taking
the fingerprints - of a tree. And we'll watch an airplane
engines explode and cars crash - to make both safer.
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) I'm Alan Alda. Join me for a special emergency
edition of Scientific American Frontiers.
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) Today the leading cause of death for Americans
under the age of 34 isn't guns or disease, or drownings, or
fires, it's this....
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Automobile accidents kill 40,000 Americans
a year. And here at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
in rural Virginia, engineers are trying to cut that number
by making cars safer - testing anti-lock braking systems,
for example, that reduce the danger of skidding on slippery
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) You know, until I saw you do that I never
realized how important anti-lock brakes are.
ESTEP It's quite a dramatic difference.
ALAN ALDA You're able to spin around in this car out here and it's
really impressive. What's the relationship between what you
do out here and what you do inside?
ESTEP Well, outside we're trying to prevent accidents and
inside we're looking at the injuries that occur in accidents
and trying to prevent them.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Christina Estep is an engineer here. Her
main job is caring for the Institute's dummies - though perhaps
"caring for" isn't quite the way to put it. These dummies
are the front line troops of crash safety research - men,
women and children made of plastic and metal, whose job it
is to be as much like us as possible -without the pain.
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) What's this one in particular do?
ESTEP This is the thorax impact test, where we take a fifty
pound pendulum and swing it into the thorax and make sure
that the dummy's ribs compress the way they're designed to
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Every dummy has to go through this harsh
physical exam before it gets its next assignment.
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) What did you get?
ESTEP We got the correct velocity, the correct resisted force.
The internal hysteresis is ok, but our sternum displacement
seems to be a little high.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Christina can tell all this because under
his rubber skin, the dummy has metal bones and ribs, that
are fitted with sensors measuring force and acceleration.
There's even an on-board memory to record what happened.
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) So this is where you collect the data. How
heavy is this guy?
ZUBIE About a hundred and seventy-two pounds.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) This is your average male dummy ... but they
come in all sizes, sexes, and ages.
ZUBIE Just put him on the seat and then we'll ...
ALAN ALDA I can't get this hook under his arm.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Each dummy costs a quarter of a million dollars.
Even his legs and arms are able to record whatever happens
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) Hold this, will you? Well, we're just going
for a little ride, I think you'll enjoy this.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) This is the dummy's reason for being of course
- to sit in for real people during a crash test - here 30
mph into a concrete wall. The government mandates this test
for all new cars - and today's cars do well in it. The structure
under the hood is designed to absorb the energy of the impact
of the crash across the whole front of the vehicle. There's
just one big problem....
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) How often does that occur in real life?
O'NEILL It's a very rare event in the real world. The kind
of damage you see in a flat barrier crash you virtually never
see in the real world. This is what you get... this is a real
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Here's the car we were looking at - and the
crash it was in. Not quite "real world", because it happened
here on the Institute's brand new indoor crash track. But
this sort of 2 car collision, where the vehicles hit off-center,
is a common kind of accident on America's roads - and causes
very different damage than the flat barrier test that the
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) What does this do to you that the front-end
barrier crash doesn't do?
O'NEILL Well, if we move back here. The main thing it does
is it loads the structure in different places than the flat
barrier which loads the whole of the front end. Because we
get localized loading that means we've got much more potential
for deformation. If you look at where the foot would be and
you think about the situation where you've jammed on the brakes
just before an accident. You're pushing hard in one direction
and the floor is coming up and buckling and tending to want
to capture and trap your leg down in there. And we are seeing
very serious leg injuries, ankle injuries, multiple fractures
in serious frontal crashes, from this kind of intrusion where
the safety cage is in effect failing.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The irony is that its only because of the
success of the flat barrier test in helping develop seat belts
and air bags that these lower limb injuries are coming to
O'NEILL We're eliminating a large number of the upper body
injuries, a lot of the injuries that cause death.
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) But now we're suddenly faced with these lower
body injuries and we have to live with those now. Previously
the injury would have been so great we wouldn't have had to
live with it.
O'NEILL That's correct.
ALAN ALDA He's all set to go?
ZUBIE Should be ready to go.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) So the new assignment for the dummies and
engineers here, is to come up with a crash test that car makers
can use to help reduce the lower body injuries caused by typical
head-on crashes. But because crashing 2 cars in a standardized
test is difficult and expensive, they're trying to give the
dummy the experience of a 2 car crash, using only one.
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) What can you find out from this screen here?
ESTEP This is the plot of the Y- moment.
ALAN ALDA The plot of the Y - moment?
ESTEP The Y - moment of his head. This is the pitch of his
head. So if you pushed his head backwards you could see that
in this graph.
ALAN ALDA But actually during the crash it would probably go like
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Today's test crash will be run at 40 mph.
It's the first time they're gone this fast, and no-one is
sure how the car or dummy will do. To get up to speed, they
need an approach the length of a football field. The car has
been drained of gas to reduce the risk of fire, so it will
be towed down the track by a cable that accelerates the car
to exactly the right speed.
O'NEILL So if we're seeing a 40 mph crash then the specifications
are that it should be within 39.9 or 40.1 miles per hour.
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) We're almost ready.
O'NEILL We're almost ready.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Every crash is filmed in slow motion. The
barrier has a deformible face that acts like the hood of the
other car. Milliseconds later the test car hits the steel
barrier and pivots around. From above, the single car crash
does appear to cause the same sort of damage as a car-to-car
collision. The big question, of course, is how our friendly
dummy made out.
O'NEILL See how the knees are jammed up here against the dashboard.
In fact this whole dashboard is moved back. You see how it's
distorted. There's been tremendous force applied to the lower
leg. Certainly one would anticipate significant knee and leg
injuries. That would be my guess. But the reason we take all
the measurements is we don't guess, we're going to use the
data to tell us.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Christina and her colleague Dave Zubie get
their first quick look at the data.
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) If this was a person, did the person survive?
ZUBIE Based on what we've seen so far he probably survived.
We can check in just a second here to see what kind of loads
were acting on his legs. As one might guess he may very well
have suffered severe lower leg fractures and other debilitating
injuries, if not life-threatening.
ALAN ALDA Now you have to get back this dummy back into the lab
and fix him up and make him ready for the next crash.
ESTEP Prep him for the next one.
ALAN ALDA What a life.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) As these tests go on, car makers are working
on designs that will help prevent leg injuries. One way is
to strengthen the foot well with thicker and stiffer materials.
Another idea is to add a cross-piece between the structural
members up front. When one side is hit, this cross piece redirects
the force - which now increases the car's spin instead of
heading into the passenger cabin. Meanwhile, engineers and
dummies continue their collaboration.
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) Christina, you work with these dummies all
the time and you observe them during these crashes. When you're
in the car driving, does this go through your head? Do you
ever think about this?
ESTEP I've adjusted my headrest. I've slowed down my driving
speed. It makes an impact.
ALAN ALDA To put it mildly!
ESTEP No pun intended.
back to top
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The rain forests of Panama. Serene and beautiful.
But it's a jungle out here. And these are some of the biggest
heavies around. Ants will take on practically anything - from
vicious wasps that like to lay their eggs in the living bodies
of their victims...to lightning quick poisonous spiders.
Devries has been investigating a tangled web of jungle relationships,
involving murder, protection rackets, payoffs and secret messages.
And at the heart of the story - ants.
DEVRIES If you think about ants whether you're going out on
a picnic, everyone knows that as soon as you put down the
food and the ants come and you start complaining because the
ants are biting and stinging you. Well that's typical of ants.
Ants don't like to associate with other species.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Every crime story needs a victim, and in
this case it's a caterpillar. These juicy prizes are often
the targets of jungle predators, so they adopt defenses -
like masquerading as a dead leaf. Or rolling up a leaf to
make an armored shield. Or growing poisonous spines that predators
learn to avoid. Phil was amazed when he saw something the
law of the jungle should not permit - a defenseless caterpillar.
Not only defenseless, but apparently living in perfect harmony
with one of the most vicious kinds of ant in the neighborhood.
Somehow, these innocent potential victims have persuaded the
bad guys to be on their side. To investigate the relationship
between ant and caterpillar, Phil set up an ant exclusion
experiment. The idea was to see what would happen as new caterpillars
hatched and then had to live without ants. First he cleared
the vegetation from around a series of plants, so ants couldn't
jump onto them. Then he covered the stems with a sort of ant-trapping
glue. Finally, he removed the remaining ants, leaving the
plants ant-free. Over the next year, Phil seldom found caterpillars
on the ant-free plants. Whereas there were always plenty of
caterpillars on the plants with ants. So for some reason,
these caterpillars need ants. With some close surveillance,
Phil figured out what was going on - a protection racket.
DEVRIES What these ants are doing is they're protecting the
caterpillars against enemies. They're like guard dogs, if
you will. If you can see if I touch this stick to this ant
here, it will eventually run out and perhaps - there, see
that thing biting me? And so what happens is that if a predator
comes in to get the caterpillar, what happens is that these
ants will attack it, they'll bite it and drive off the enemy.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Here's that vicious predatory wasp again.
Again and again it's driven away from it's intended victim
by the protector ants. Finally the confrontation ends when
an ant uses its lethal sting against the wasp. Pretty good
protection for the caterpillar. Now there's no protection
racket in the world without a payoff. So what's in it for
the ants? The investigation moved into the lab, at the Smithsonian's
Panama Research Center. Phil set up a captive colony of caterpillars
and ants so he could observe their behavior close up. And
he managed to catch the payoff as it happened. At regular
intervals, ants saunter up and start to feed on a juice produced
by the caterpillars. The ants clearly find this nectar irresistible
- maybe even addictive - often battling head to head over
it. But we're not done yet - the plot thickens. Somehow, in
the vastness of the jungle, the ants have to locate their
suppliers of nectar - and Phil discovered how they do it.
Each caterpillar has two small dark rods sticking out above
its head. They vibrate up and down as the caterpillar moves.
DEVRIES Just from watching them for a long time, it occurred
to me that they might be producing a sound that was detectable
by the ants themselves. And what I did was I took one of these
caterpillars and examined it under a scanning electron microscope.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Magnified one thousand times, the rods were
shown to have deep rings along their length, and the caterpillar's
head just under the rods was covered in jagged points.
DEVRIES It suggested that these could in fact be a sound producing
system or an organ because it looks like a file. If I ran
my finger - it was very large - if I ran my finger doing it
would produce a simple sound.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Phil set himself up in a soundproof room
at the research center, so he could listen in on the caterpillars.
A miniature microphone was arranged to pick up any faint vibrations
that his subjects might be producing.
DEVRIES Oh yeah....
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) So far so good, but now Phil had to see if
the caterpillar sound has any effect on the ants. So next
he set about creating a few silent caterpillars.
DEVRIES It's not a very delicate operation. As the papilla
beats up and down, the real trick is trying to grab it with
the forceps. And once you get it, it's like tugging out a
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The mute caterpillars were marked with a
spot of blue dye. Phil headed back into the jungle, to mix
these silent caterpillars in with groups of their normal,
rowdy companions. Over the next few months, he came back to
see how the two types were getting along.
DEVRIES What I found is that the caterpillars that produce
a call always have more ants on them than the ones that are
mute. And what I conclude from this is simply that the ants
are actually attracted to the call produced by the caterpillars,
and of course this translates into protection. If you're a
caterpillar and you have more ants around you, you're certainly
protected much better from predators then if you're a caterpillar
that has fewer ants around you.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) And so our jungle story of protection and
payoffs has a final twist - the caterpillar siren song that
makes it all work.
back to top
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) Our next story is about what may be the most
unusual use ever made of science to solve a crime. Often the
key piece of evidence that links a suspect to a crime, is
something that carries a unique pattern. Something that can
only be found in one person, or one weapon, like fingerprints.
But here at the F.B.I. in Washington, the pattern found in
the tips of our fingers is just one of many kinds of fingerprints
that is used to help solve crimes.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Fingerprints themselves have been used in
crime busting for over 80 years.
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) So Jim, have you looked at this note already
to see if there are prints on it.
Yes, I did a visual examination...
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) And nowadays, there are ways to find fingerprints
on almost anything. Jim Ridgely showed me how prints that
are otherwise invisible can sometimes show up under a laser
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) "Give me all the money. No alarms. No false
moves or you die". That looks very real.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The intense light of the laser can under
some circumstances cause a fingerprint to fluoresce - so seen
through a filter that cuts down the light of the laser, the
fingerprints themselves shine brightly.
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) Look at those prints there, that's incredibly
clear, and there were no prints on that to be seen.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The laser is just one of a dozen or so ways
of spotting prints if a criminal is careless enough to leave
one. And sometimes avoiding an obvious mistake can simply
lead to another...
One case that really comes to mind was where a individual
burglarized a residence, and he was very much aware that his
fingerprints could be identified. So what he did was he took
off his shoes and socks and he put his socks over his hands
and entered the residence. But the only thing was they were
able to develop his footprints on the floor and we identified
ALAN ALDA That's really using his noodle.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Of course, finding a fingerprint is only
the beginning of finding its owner. At the F.B.I. that search
begins by marking on a computer screen the tiny details -often
the end of a ridge or where a ridge divides in two - that
give a fingerprint its unique identity. The computer then
searches for a match among the fingerprints the F.B.I. has
on file. And when you see that file, you realize why the computer
is so valuable. There are over 25 million fingerprints stored
away here. The computer search narrows that number down to
a list of 20 or so. Then the final match between the crime
scene and the fingerprint on file is made the old-fashioned
way - by eye.
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) And its not just fingerprints that can be
used to link a suspect to a crime.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) A gun leaves its own version of fingerprints
imprinted on the head of the cartridge every time it's fired.
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) Are the marks on this cartridge unique?
MAN Yes the marks on the cartridge case after firing a firearm
are unique to that firearm.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) As the cartridge case is slammed backwards
during firing, it's stamped with an imprint of tiny machining
marks left from the gun's manufacture.
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) And these are all cartridge cases that you
got on file.
MAN That's correct.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Those marks can often link a gun with a shooting
- or different shootings can be linked to each other - if
only enough cartridges can be compared.
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) Could we see those side by side and see how
MAN Sure we can do that, we can get that on screen for you.
ALAN ALDA Now this looks like a really good match between these
MAN Yeah, this is one....
ALAN ALDA ...these shapes look the same and everything right?
MAN Yeah, this is one of the first matches that were made
in the Drug fire system.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The F.B.I.'s new Drug fire project has digitized
the images of thousands of cartridges from shootings in the
Washington area so that instant comparisons can be made among
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) You just have to look at it, those striations
are identical. You go across the hairline there....
MAN That's correct. ALAN ...you can just see it.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) And in the year the project's been running
these gun "fingerprints" have helped solve over 60 shootings.
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) The latest version of the fingerprint to
be used for identification, is DNA, the stuff our genes are
made of. In the last few years, hundreds of suspects have
been convicted, and others cleared by analyzing the unique
patterns found in everyone's DNA.
OFFICER Radio will you advise detectives that we appear to
have a 901H.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) And in Phoenix, Arizona, DNA fingerprints
have recently solved a grisly murder. Except here the fingerprints
weren't from a person, but a tree. This is a re-creation of
what turned out to be an extraordinary investigation. It began
with the discovery of the body of a young women. With no eye
witness to her killing, the first detectives on the scene
searched for physical evidence. They checked tire tracks on
the road nearby. And then they got their first big break.
The sound of a pager going off in the grass a few feet from
the victim. Twenty four hours later, the pager lead was being
followed up by the detective assigned to coordinate the case.
NORTON My name is Charlie Norton and I'm a homicide investigator
with the Maricopa County Sheriff's office in Phoenix, Arizona.
I've been a detective for about 15 years. When I came into
the case, my first assignment was to meet with the man who
was determined to be the subscriber of the pager that was
found at the scene.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The subscriber's name was Earl Bogan - and
he immediately became the number one suspect.
NORTON Mr. Bogan. Hi, I'm Charlie Norton from the Sheriff's
Office and I'd like to talk to you about a pager. We found
a pager at a crime scene....
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) But as Norton questioned Bogan, it soon became
clear he wasn't the culprit. He owned the pager, but it was
his son Mark who used it. A day later, Mark Bogan was brought
in for questioning. He had a story that could account for
his pager being found with the victim.
BOGAN Well it was about 10:00 at night and I was looking for
a phone. To call some friends, I wanted to go visiting. And
all of a sudden I hear this tap on the window of the phone
booth and this girl came up to me and asked if she could have
a ride. And I said hey, sure why not, I'm not doing anything,
my friends weren't home. So she got into the truck and we
took off down 35th Avenue.....
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Bogan admitted picking up the victim - but
he claimed they'd parted company while still downtown, following
a heated argument.
BOGAN ... she got angry and took her hand and knocked all
my things off the dashboard, opened the door and took off
with my wallet. I took off after her and got my wallet back,
and I just walked back to my truck and went on home.
NORTON Well your pager was found out there at the scene where
this girl was found murdered.
BOGAN Well, when she stole my wallet, she must have stolen
my pager too because I couldn't find it the next morning.
I guess she got it.
NORTON I thought he was a pathological liar.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The detective was convinced Bogan had lost
his pager in a struggle at the murder site. But Bogan's version
of events was at least plausible. Knowing any such doubts
would trouble a jury, Norton returned to the scene of the
crime . He was hoping that the original investigation may
have missed some crucial piece of evidence that could prove
Bogan had been there. He looked for shoe prints - or something
like the pager left behind in haste. There was nothing. But
then he noticed that a branch of one of the Palo Verde trees
alongside the roadway was scarred with a fresh scrape. Suspecting
the damage might have been caused by the murderer's vehicle,
Norton on an impulse collected a few bean pods from the tree.
He had no idea how they could be useful.
NORTON Police officers when they go to an investigation of
any crime scene they collect just about anything they can
find. Soil samples, leaves, grass and they hope at some time
in the future it will help establish that their suspect was
at the scene.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The next day, Norton's instinct to collect
the bean pods began to pay off. Evidence technicians had been
inspecting Bogan's pickup for hours - unable to find anything
that could place it at the murder scene. But then, while taking
an inventory of the back of the truck, their luck changed.
NORTON This seemed like something out of the ordinary. Something
that we needed to pay attention to.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) To Detective Norton, it made sense. After
the murder, Bogan's truck scraped the tree, shaking loose
the bean pods. But the problem with the theory was obvious.
There are tens of thousands of Palo Verde trees growing around
Phoenix. The pods in Bogan's truck could have come from any
one of them. It was Norton's boss who came up with the suggestion
that would eventually break open the case.
What if there's a DNA test for the bean pods. And when I say
a DNA test, it may be an experimental thing. You're going
to have to research it. Someone could already doing DNA testing
with plant life. And we don't know it.
NORTON I thought it was a silly idea, to tell you the truth.
I was vaguely familiar with DNA as it applies to criminal
cases in say humans for example. But I really had no experience
and really didn't have any idea that there was such a thing
as DNA in plants.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) But Norton did what his boss suggested -
and began hunting for a scientist who might be able to use
DNA to link the truck's pods with the tree at the crime scene.
HELENTJARIS Hello, Tim Helentjaris here.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Tim Helentjaris was the fifteenth geneticist
Norton contacted - after 14 had said a DNA comparison was
impossible or way too costly.
NORTON We found two bean pods in the back of our suspects
truck. And I want to know if it might be possible to do some
DNA testing on the pods and see if it would come back to a
HELENTJARIS Well theoretically if we analyze the DNA from
the pods and from the tree we should be able to show if they
match or not. The important question would be how much variation
there is between individual Palo Verde trees. And so we might
need to run a few tests first just to see how different Palo
Verde trees are from each other.
NORTON Well, what would I have to send to you then in order
for you to go ahead and do the DNA testing?
HELENTJARIS Well probably what we need first is a number of
different Palo Verde trees.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The geneticist's concern was that some plant
species are so genetically uniform that a DNA test couldn't
tell individual plants apart. So the critical question was:
how unique is any one Palo Verde tree's DNA fingerprint? To
find out, Detective Norton mobilized members of the Phoenix
volunteer "Sheriff's Posse" to collect bean pods from trees
through out the county. The posse collected 38 samples in
all. And within a week, they were all in the hands of Tim
Helentjaris here at the University of Arizona in Tucson. His
first task was to see if different Palo Verde trees had different
DNA fingerprints. Only then could he hope to prove the pods
in Mark Bogan's truck matched the tree at the crime scene.
The analysis began by removing the seeds - which would have
confused the results.
HELENTJARIS The seeds have DNA both from the mother tree and
other trees that would have pollinated it. So we need to get
rid of those and just use the pod material which would only
have DNA from the mother tree.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Next the pods were dunked in liquid nitrogen
making them brittle and easy to grind up. But then Helentjaris
ran into a problem that threatened to jeopardize the entire
HELENTJARIS I almost quit a couple of times because we had
problems extracting the DNA from the pods -- since they were
quite woody. But when I would talk to the detectives and they
kept re-emphasizing how important it was, I went back and
tried another procedure and then another until we finally
got it to work.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The pods eventually yielded up their DNA.
But weeks of work still lay ahead. The task was to find within
each tree's DNA a few small pieces that would be different
from tree to tree - so that when their fragments were run
through an electric sorter, the trees could be easily compared.
Here's what a DNA fingerprint looks like - a series of bands
that light up orange under ultraviolet light. Using the fingerprints,
Helentjaris was able to make the critical comparison. The
two pods found in the truck matched each other - and they
also matched perfectly the pods taken from the tree at the
crime scene. On the other hand, every other tree had a completely
different DNA fingerprint. It was just what Charlie Norton
had been hoping for.
NORTON I couldn't believe it. I though it was just a miracle
really. First of all he could do it, and then the added elation
that this is going to make our case against Mark.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) On May 27th, 1993, Mark Bogan was found guilty
of first degree murder. It was the first time the DNA fingerprint
of a plant was used in a criminal trial. Undoubtedly it won't
be the last.
A FIRE - SAVE THE OZONE
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) It's our worst nightmare...everything seems
to be fine. PILOT Rotate
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) But what we don't know is that there's a
serious problem. Suddenly... PILOT Fire. We're not going to
make it. We gotta get out.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) This 1980 film probably had it wrong. Since
the 50's all jet engines have used an extremely effective
fire extinguishing chemical called halon. But in 1993 production
of halon was banned because it contributes to the destruction
of the earth's protective ozone layer. We're at a Federal
Aviation Administration research center in New Jersey. In
the search for a halon replacement the first task is figuring
out how to start a typical fire. They've devised a test rig
using an old jet engine. One of the engineers is Harry Webster.
WEBSTER What we've done is install a Plexiglas window in the
side of the engine nacelle. The fire itself is generated by
this little oil burner that's basically the same as what you
use in your house. As you can see by all the plumbing and
duct work it's a very complex environment to put a fire out
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) On the rig, the fire fighting chemicals are
contained in these pressurized tanks. Normally they'd be built
into the plane. To add to the realism, a second engine will
be used to blow high speed air through these tubes, directly
into the test engine. It'll be like flying at over 400 miles
per hour. The control room is safely separated from the whole
arrangement. Today it's really the rig that's being tested,
and they'll be using halon. The air-blowing engine is run
WEBSTER 3...2...fire number one.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) With the push of a button, a major fuel leak
is started. And then... In a fraction of a second the halon
snuffs out the fire. It's this performance that replacements
will have to match. This is the baggage compartment of a commuter
plane. The ground crew loads up - without forgetting to include
this handy suitcase igniter. The passengers are unusually
well prepared on this flight - because of course it's another
test rig, this time for hand-held fire extinguishers. They
let the fire get well established - and then they'll use a
single, small, hand-held halon extinguisher like those currently
carried on all commercial flights. Even though the firefighters
can't get close to the fire, once again the halon is completely
effective... ...and it's non-toxic...and it doesn't damage
delicate electronics or control systems.
WEBSTER Halon's good stuff. We're going to be sorry to see
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) This is why halon has to go. As most things
burn, they give off a highly reactive form of hydrogen gas.
The hydrogen feeds back into the fire, making it burn all
the stronger. Halon contains bromine, which combines with
the hydrogen, breaking the cycle and extinguishing the fire.
But then the bromine floats off into the upper atmosphere,
where it combines with ozone - destroying it. The very thing
that makes halon so effective at putting out fires, also endangers
our environment. And that's a problem because halon fire systems
are used in every jet plane that flies. They're used in computer
rooms...on oil rigs in Alaska...even on the space shuttle.
So now the race is on to find a replacement. Every race needs
BENNETT is one of them. At Wright Patterson Air Force Base
in Ohio, he's devised one of the toughest tests for new fire
BENNETT Destruction is our middle name and a lot of people
envy us because of the work that we do here. Basically every
day consists of building things and blowing them apart.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Like Harry Webster with his engine fire rig,
Mike Bennett's after realism. For the Air Force, that means
simulating air combat.
BENNETT This fixture right here is designed to simulate the
side of an airplane. Our main area of concern is right around
here where the airflow would interact.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The air flow comes out of this duct.
BENNETT On the other end are jet engines that we use to generate
about 400 knots--450 miles an hour of air flow to actually
simulate the airflow of the aircraft in flight. It'll actually
blow over this test fixture over here to simulate airflow
blowing over the outside of a plane. It will dramatically
effect the fire inside. This is ground zero--this is where
we aim our gun at this target point and this is where the
whole action begins.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) What Mike means by "whole action" is a tremendous
fire - because there's a tank of jet fuel behind the target.
Right above - two tanks of fire suppressant chemicals.
Set up for the first shot...
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) In the range control room, the team prepares
to run the rig for the first time with air flow. In case things
get out of hand, there's a backup system. This will suppress
the fire by flooding the entire building with carbon dioxide.
And these are the explosive shells that get the whole thing
POOLE This is a Soviet 23 mm HEI round. It's Korean war era
and it was used by the Soviets for air to air combat.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) A home made gun is aimed at the target, in
front of the tank of jet fuel. The first thing for Mike to
establish is whether halon itself can cope with such an extreme
test. The high speed air through the target area is run up.
Attention all personnel. Stand by for 21 second countdown
on range 3 starting now. 20 seconds....fifteen...10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-0.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The halon is released, but the fire burns
out of control. Before the rig itself is damaged, they have
to use the backup carbon dioxide. So the rig is re-set for
another shot - doubling the amount of halon, to 2 pounds.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) This time the fire seems to barely get started
- perhaps the rig is not functioning right. But viewed in
slow motion, it's clear there had been a fierce fire ball
which the halon suppressed in less than half a second. Of
the dozens of possible halon replacements screened by Mike's
team, three look promising. Now they can begin the first tests
of those three, under these rigorous conditions.
This is FE25. Two pounds mass. It'll be the same mass as the
halon shot that we did previously.
BENNETT That's the chemical from DuPont, right?
That's correct. 3-2-1-0
BENNETT Pretty large fire there.
Didn't touch it.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) We won't be flying with that chemical in
the near future.
BENNETT We didn't see very good performance of the chemical
at least this time. It didn't really seem to effect the fire
at all. So it looks like we're going to have to go quite a
bit...in fact it looks like the performance is much worse
than what we saw without the exterior airflow. So our original
encouraging results are not as encouraging right now once
we've added the full scale air flow.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Ideally, tests like this will eventually
help find a single new chemical that will fight a whole range
of fires: in military combat, civilian jet engines, cargo
holds, and computer rooms. If we save the halon that's now
in storage for the most critical uses - like an aircraft -it
can last for several years. So how long before a replacement
is found? That's what nobody knows.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) When people are in trouble they call the
cops. But in New York, when the cops are in trouble they call
the Emergency Service Unit.
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) This is a specially equipped truck used by
the New York City Police Department's Emergency Service Unit.
It's pretty much ready to do anything. You're going to have
MIKE CROWLEY and
JACK GRIFFITH to explain some of this to me. Mike, here's
the first thing I want to know about, what is this, what are
MIKE CROWLEY Pigtails are nothing more than electrical connections
that we use when we string lights out.
ALAN ALDA Jack what were you working on, what is this thing?
JACK GRIFFITH This is the jaws of life. We call it the Hurst
tool. We use these to extricate people from vehicle accidents.
ALAN ALDA What is this here, what do you use this for - animals?
JACK GRIFFITH Yes, this is our animal control system that
we use. In this city we have a lot of pitbulls, and sometimes
ALAN ALDA You guys go under the water, you go on top of buildings,
you come out of helicopters.
MIKE CROWLEY Some of us even repel amphibiously into the water.
ALAN ALDA Into the New York City rivers. Now that's brave.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) But equipment isn't always enough. In 1984
Emergency Services faced Eleanor Bumpers, an emotionally disturbed
woman barricaded in this apartment. They broke through the
door and tried using a restraining bar they had invented.
But, knife in hand, she escaped the bar and rushed the officers.
CHIEF JOHN LOWE She was coming at the officer who had a hand
shield, and she was able to get her hand over that, and about
to stab him, when one of the police officers, with a shot
gun fired two rounds, both of them hitting the woman.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Eleanor Bumpers was dead, the police officer
indicted. And the city knew it needed a new tool to handle
the mentally ill.
WARD, POLICE COMMISIONER We're sorry. We'll try to do better.
I think, we can do better. We invented the t-bar. The rest
of the nation is using it. We'll try to invent something else.
And hopefully this won't happen again.
Nobody treats me that way, nobody treats....
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) This is New York City's new invention. It's
not a piece of equipment, but it is a tool - for the mind.
You're dealing with me, you're dealing with Madonna.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) It's a class at John Jay College where professional
trainers guide the officers through the psychiatric disorders
that they'll see on the street.
I gotta go.....
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) A specially trained actress is showing the
classic rage and delusions of mania.
Can you tell me what he did to you?
He didn't treat me like a lady.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Then there's the psychopath.
Aren't I good enough for a duty captain?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Intelligent and manipulative, he gains control
of the situation.
Quick question, Sam, who's in control?
OFFICER You're in control
I didn't do nothing, I didn't do wrong, it was my wires....
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) And they learn to recognize the schizophrenic
through her hallucinations and garbled speech.
He didn't want the wires, he said no more wires, no more wires.
No more yelling, no more yelling, no more wires, no more yelling....
ST. GEORGE One of the things that we're trying to do with
the program, is help you to understand what different diseases
do to different people.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Joyce St. George leads the training.
ST. GEORGE ...one more tool so that if this person is doing
word salad, if this person is delusional, if this person is
talking to him or herself. If it 95 degrees out and she's
got a ski jacket on, they might be indicators that there is
schizophrenia going on. If that's the case, that might help
you determine how to work with that person.
RAY PITT A lot of people on the street now...
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Professor Ray Pitt and Sergeant Mike Crowley
help run the class.
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) How technical do you get about your evaluation
of what's going on with the other person. Do you in your head
say, this person is this kind of psychotic. Do you actually
get clinical about your evaluation?
RAY PITT It's important for the officer's to know whether,
if a person is delusional, whether he's maybe schizophrenic,
or maybe he's manic, or maybe he's suffering from cocaine
ALAN ALDA And you have a different technique to use with each of
MIKE CROWLEY Just the other day we knocked out a peep hole
and I looked in, and the worst scenario is that we had a barricade,
who had offed his mother inside. And I could see that this
guy had all the symptoms of schizophrenia. It was 92 degrees
and he had a ski hat on, and he was inappropriately dressed,
and he was mumbling. I could also tell from his demeanor,
and from what I've learned, that schizophrenic of this type
are probably not violent. And I told the captain, I said we
have a classic schizophrenic here. I said everything I know
about schizophrenia, this is him, and he's probably not violent.
And it encouraged the captain to enable us to pop the door
and go in and he went like a lamb.
ED RUSH There's no problem, there's no problem...
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The science of the classroom meets the chaos
of the street. The officers have to make a diagnosis -- here
Sergeant Crowley thinks it's a drug induced problem, called
ED RUSH There's no trouble, just come out, and talk to us
and that's it.
MIKE CROWLYE He's barricaded, he's intoxicated with apparently
crack, and he's highly agitated. The family in there is just
making it worse. He's like wildly fearful.
ED RUSH Aaron, there is nothing to be afraid of.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The officer's threatening tone is not getting
him the results he wants.
ED RUSH Aaron, you're not in trouble Aaron, open the door.
MIKE CROWLEY We try to avoid getting into power struggles,
where we say Aaron come out, and he says no, and we say Aaron
come out, and he says no, Aaron come out. When you find yourself
in a power struggle like that, one of the points that we review
in the course, is to try and take a different tack. Tell him
your name, ask him what's on his mind instead of constantly
telling him we're not going to hurt you, ask him what he's
afraid of. Maybe we're doing something to make his fear worse.
To me he looked like a deer who was looking into head lights.
He was in complete panic. Tell you what, let me take a shot
at this....Hey Aaron, can you hear me? Aaron, my name is Mike.
Can you hear me? We're not here to hurt you. Listen, I appreciate
your attention. The ambulance is out here.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Sergeant Crowley tries to ease the
SERGANT MIKE CROWLEY O.K. listen. Let him come out. Lets
not push it. He's got to many place to go.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) But violence erupts inside. It's not a textbook
ending, but with the attempt to talk first, it's at least
MIKE CROWLEY We can learn a lot from Aaron, if our minds are
open to the possibilities. Maybe ten years ago, it might have
been the same tactics, the same outcome. But he would have
been just another psycho, ten years ago. Whereas today, we
can take our experience with him, and try to analyze what
his behavior indicated. And maybe that will help us in future
KOBEL What's your name ma'am?
LADY I don't want any...Helen Harris.
KOBEL Helen, why don't you come out here and talk to me. LADY
Don't you call me Helen, my name is Mrs. Harris. I'm Mrs.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Back in the classroom, Officer Kobel is learning
about land mines - the verbal kind.
KOBEL Mrs. Harris, you want to call me John, you can call
ST. GEORGE The first big land mine was when you called her
Helen, right? And how did he get out of that one? He let her
walk it through, do the whole course. Then he apologized.
I'm sorry, I'll call you Mrs. Harris, you can call me John.
So you're always going to hit the land mines, its what you
do with them that's gonna make a big difference. A lot of
people will get into a power struggle.
KOBEL Have you eaten lately?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) It's an approach that may seem to go against
traditional policing, but when it works, it avoids the use
of mace, laser stun guns, or worse.
ST. GEORGE Four years ago, it was not uncommon for us to have
to battle it out about why you don't have to laser her. Now,
it's a given that your gonna talk it through. That she is
a danger as long as she has that bottle she's gonna be a risk.
But we do have the time, at least right now, to try to deal
with it on a verbal basis, on a non-tactical. So there is
some good stuff going on.
MIKE CROWLY That's one of the revelations about this kind
of training. That we're actually gonna start to deal with
someone who is acting crazy.
ALAN ALDA (ON CAMERA) What's the percentage though, of calls that
you get, that force you to deal with people with emotional
MIKE CROWLEY We were dispatched to somewhere between 38-40,000
of them in the five boroughs in 1992.
RAY PITT What percentage of your workload would that be, Mike?
MIKE CROWLEY Taking all of those calls into consideration,
it approaches 40% of our workload.
ALAN ALDA So they really need this training.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) A hostage job for Emergency Service. A severely
disturbed man is holding his four children at gun point.
OFFICER We came up to the door, took control of the door by
trying to open the door. My partner Steve Green took the point,
with a shield and a nine millimeter and started negotiations.
STEVE GREEN He's at a certain level of aggression, the last
thing I want to do is raise that. His children could be in
definite peril. So the class was very good at giving us somewhat
of a guideline to work by. What to listen for in him, what
might set him of, what could possibly steer him in the direction
MIKE CROWLEY In his demented way of thinking, he might be
of the opinion that what he's doing is in the best interest
of the children. But if we could somehow let him know that
we are on his side, that we also have the welfare of the children,
and convince him that that's true, well then our battle is
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) And in this case, the battle is eventually
fully won - without violence. Since the class started, seven
years ago, New York has seen negotiated surrenders, like this,
go up by nearly 40%. That's all for this episode of Scientific
American Frontiers. See you next time.