ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
West Point calls it a crowning achievement. It's an engineering project by cadets at the U.S. military academy. They've designed a crown rescue device, that is a device to rescue someone from the crown of the Statue of Liberty, if needed. Each year, tens of thousands of tourists climb the narrow spiral stairway inside the statute and occasionally, someone needs an emergency evacuation. To get back down those 146 steps, well, that can be tricky.
Soon, that will no longer be the case, thanks to the West Point cadets and their civil engineering professor, Major Mark DeRocchi, and he joins us now. Mr. DeRocchi, I understand that you gave these young men and women this assignment.
Major MARK DeROCCHI (Professor, West Point): That is correct. I had the opportunity to interact with the National Park Service, and they expressed a concern for being able to rescue someone from the crown. And it seemed like the ideal project for both civil and mechanical engineering students.
NORRIS: Where did this idea come from for sort of a little chair that would move down this spiral stairway?
Maj. DeROCCHI: There is currently a item called the stair chair, which is used in normal staircases around the world, and that idea, the concept of carrying a person safely down was really the genesis for how this whole thing came up. The problem is that any commercial, off-the-shelf technology that you could buy would not fit inside the Statue of Liberty, it's so small.
NORRIS: Was this modeled in part on the stair chairs that we see sometimes in the homes of elderly people who have a hard time getting up the stairs in a home as they age, and they can sit down and press a button and sort of slide down the stairs instead of walking down the stairs?
Maj. DeROCCHI: It would be very similar to that except for it's mostly going down only, and it's using gravity instead of some sort of electronic motor because there's very limited access to any power in the Statue of Liberty.
NORRIS: Okay, if someone has never been inside that very narrow stairwell, just paint a picture for me. What does this device look like and how exactly does it work?
Maj. DeROCCHI: Okay, so in a time of duress, you're stuck in this very narrow, very steep stairwell, and so this chair would be attached to the railing above you. Your body would be slid and turned into the chair. So now you're facing out, looking out of the stairs but strapped in, and then as you are lowered down, you basically slide down this helix, double staircase down to the bottom.
NORRIS: So it's really like sliding down a corkscrew.
Maj. DeROCCHI: It really is. The way I've described it to other people is that if you think of DNA, the classic picture of DNA, where it's really tightly wound, you're going to slide down one of those helixes on the way down.
NORRIS: And you're strapped in almost like, it looks almost like a parachute straps, two straps that come over a backpack.
Maj. DeROCCHI: That would be a great way to describe it or maybe even a racecar seat harness.
NORRIS: I'm just looking at the specs for these stairs. They're 19 inches wide.
Maj. DeROCCHI: That is correct.
NORRIS: That's just tiny.
Maj. DeROCCHI: You know, the entire stair system was designed so that it can fit through Lady Liberty's neck. Consequently, the actual neck of the statue is very narrow. So to get upstair and downstair staircase into her neck, that's what they had to work with.
NORRIS: Well, those cadets, do you think that they earned an A for this project?
Maj. DeROCCHI: I am extremely ecstatic to assign their final grades in the computer at the end of the semester, and they will definitely be receiving an A.
NORRIS: Major Mark DeRocchi, thanks so much.
Maj. DeROCCHI: Michele, my pleasure.
NORRIS: Major Mark DeRocchi is an assistant professor of civil engineering at West Point. His students designed the crown rescue device to help bring people down from the Statue of Liberty in emergency situations.
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