Even thestrongest of structural steel cannot withstand the largest natural disasters -but when a building collapses, for example following an earthquake, steel beamscan support rubble and leave pockets of air in which humans can survive for arelatively long period of time.

Scientistsfrom across Europe are working on ways to detect these victims as quickly aspossible following a disaster, with a view to getting them the essentialmedical attention and access to drinking water that they need to sustain themuntil a full rescue can be attempted.

The solutionis an innovative gas detector, which looks for the volatile organic compoundstypically found in the exhaled air of a human in distress.

And althoughprogress has already been made, those with experience of trying to reach suchvictims are now looking to move the technology beyond finding people trapped inthe kinds of air pockets that can be created by structural steel holding offthe rubble.

SebastiaBassague of the Catalonia Fire Brigade explains: “There are some buildingmaterials which, when they collapse, form a very homogeneous kind of rubble – abit like a sand mountain, without holes.”

Untilsolutions can be found for those materials, steel beams – and the critical,albeit cramped, spaces they can provide in collapsed buildings – could continueto be among the main lifesavers when disaster strikes.