After a number of massive natural disasters in recent years, search and rescue teams sought out a new technology that would aid in saving victims from the rubble, and they've found it.
A team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, or JPL, in Pasadena, Calif., have developed an advanced radar known as FINDER, or Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response, designed to detect survivors buried under collapsed structures.
"There is a general need for what they call the holy grail in search and rescue, to detect buried victims quickly because time is lives," JPL's Task Manager of FINDER Jim Lux said.
Inspired by a class of mass disasters including the Haiti earthquake and the Moore, Okla., tornado, the radar system was originally made with the goal of searching a house-sized collapsed structure in 15 minutes. However, the system proved after testing to be much faster.
Jimmy Hodges helps Chad Heltcel and his wife Cassidi salvage the wreckage of Chad Heltcel's family home, which was destroyed Monday when a tornado moved through Moore, Okla., Tuesday, May 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
"Turns out we can actually go faster," Lux said. "About two minutes for one search."
The device works by using a microwave signal to illuminate the rubble and search for moving reflections. These active reflections show a buried victim.
"Reflections from the rubble don't move, but the reflections from the buried victims move because when you breathe and your heart beats, your body moves a little bit," Lux said.
Due to the radar's detection of heartbeats instead of sounds, victims do not have to be responsive or conscious to be seen.
"The search techniques rely a lot on listening and listening to the victim for tapping or yelling, whereas we can detect the heartbeat," Lux said. "If there is a heartbeat, they are there."
The system is currently undergoing extensive testing in Virginia, as the research team tries to figure out what the best, most effective way to use the FINDER is.
To date the radar has been tested in multi-story collapse simulations to determine its sensitivity, in open fields to help understand how far away it can be effectively used and in various elements such as mud and rain.
Virginia Task Force 1 team members demonstrate the prototype technology called Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response (FINDER) at the team's training facility, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, in Lorton, Va. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
With the original design, the team faced multiple challenges including developing the prototypes within less than a year, learning the ins and outs of how search and rescue operations and figuring out how to differentiate between an operator's heartbeat and a victim's.
"We started a little over a year ago. The Department of Homeland Security wanted an 80 percent solution in a year and a perfect solution in five years."
Changes have also since been made to the initial design to increase the device's ability to aid search and rescue teams. For example, a GPS was added, as well as a camera, to help emergency crews remember what locations they had previously searched.
Working with search and rescue teams, the JPL staff modeled FINDER not to replace the teams but instead to strengthen their weaknesses.
"Our technique is sort of complementary; it does things that the dogs and microphones don't and they do things that we don't," Lux said.
While FINDER is not expected to be on the market until the summer of 2014, already researchers at JPL are looking to expand its uses for other disaster scenarios with the hope of using it in a post-avalanche situation.
The 2014 Open Championship begins Thursday, July 17 and lasts through Sunday July 20.
The first part of this week will feel more like September than the middle of July, typically the hottest time of year, throughout the Midwest.
The hot weather seen across the Northwest over the weekend will carry over into the new week, continuing the risk of heat-related illness.
The Northeast and mid-Atlantic will be faced with severe thunderstorms and flooding downpours through at least Tuesday before the new week ends on a more refreshing note.
In the western Pacific, Tropical Storm Rammasun is on track to threaten the Philippines.
Mississippi Valley & Great Lakes (1936)
Searing heat across the Upper Mississippi Valley and the Great Lakes: Evansville, IN 107 degrees Alpena, MI 104 degrees Grand Rapids, MI 108 degrees St. Cloud, MN 107 degrees Wisconsin Dells, WI 114 degrees; all-time record. Green Bay, WI 104 degrees Fort Francis, ONT. 108 degrees; highest ever in Ontario Province. Mio, MI 112 degrees, all-time high in state.
The East (1975)
(13th-15th) A stationary front that extended from Maine to Florida caused 3 days of heavy rains from the Appalachians to the Atlantic Coast. River flooding in low-lying areas was reported in PA, NJ, DE, MD, VA and NC. Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD each received more than 3 inches of rain in a 24-hour period. Up to 7 inches of rain fell in 24 hours on parts of Maryland's eastern shore. Northern New Jersey was hit hardest with flash flooding. A total of 6.11 inches of rain fell on Trenton, NJ in a one-hour period. NJ was declared in a state of emergency and officials stated that as much as 34 inches of rain had fallen in the northern half of the state with property damage close to $30 million. Five people drowned.
New York City, NY (1977)
A thunderstorm north of city struck a power plant at 9:34 p.m., setting off a chain reaction and a power failure that would last into the following day. Looting resulted and a billion dollars worth of merchandise was lost.