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New SAR Tool

New SAR Device In Development May Revolutionize Backcountry Safety

DURANGO, COLORADO — A Durango-based helicopter company is testing a groundbreaking tool that promises to revolutionize search and rescue (SAR) operations in Colorado’s backcountry. This innovative technology enables SAR teams to detect and communicate with missing and distressed individuals even in areas devoid of cellphone service, drastically improving rescue efficiency and success rates.

The tool, akin to a miniature cellphone tower, is mounted on helicopters and can pinpoint the locations of cellphones within a 3-mile radius. This location data is displayed on a tablet map, allowing SAR teams to quickly narrow down the search area. “As we detect the phone, basically a blotch shows up on the map and as we fly around that area, that blotch gets smaller and smaller until we can see exactly where they are,” explained Dr. Tim Durkin, SAR program coordinator for Colorado Highland Helicopters. The entire detection process takes about a minute.

In practical terms, this technology means SAR teams can rapidly deploy ground crews or land helicopters to reach individuals in distress. During a recent test mission in La Plata Canyon, searchers located two missing persons within two minutes and 14 seconds.

The technology, known as Lifeseeker, was developed by the Spanish company CENTUM Research & Technology. It is currently undergoing approval by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) before it can be widely adopted by SAR teams across the state.

La Plata Canyon, with its dense forests and towering peaks, exemplifies the challenging terrain where Lifeseeker’s capabilities shine. Traditional search methods often fail in such areas, where tree cover can obscure even adults standing directly below a helicopter. “Even when we know exactly where they are, and we’re orbiting 100 feet off the trees in a helicopter, you can’t see them because the tree cover is that dense,” said Durkin.

The Lifeseeker system can detect cellphones up to nearly 20 miles away under optimal conditions. It takes about three minutes to attach the unit to a helicopter, making it a swift and versatile addition to SAR operations.

Additionally, Lifeseeker can send text messages to the missing person, instructing them to stay put or move to a clearing for rescue. It also has a broadcast function for emergency alerts, akin to Amber Alerts, which can be used to warn groups of people about imminent dangers like wildfires or floods.

With rugged terrains posing significant challenges to search efforts, the introduction of Lifeseeker is a promising advancement for backcountry safety. By significantly reducing the time and resources required for rescue operations, this technology has the potential to save numerous lives.

Alex Derr, Founder of The Next Summit

Alex Derr is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.

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