Detecting heartbeats in rubble: DHS and NASA team up to save victims of disasters

Sep 10, 2013
In June 2013, Urban Search and Rescue team tested the FINDER's human-finding abilities at the Fairfax County Fire Department training center. Credit: US Department of Homeland Security

When natural disasters or man-made catastrophes topple buildings, search and rescue teams immediately set out to recover victims trapped beneath the wreckage. During these missions, time is imperative, and quickly detecting living victims greatly increases chances for rescue and survival.

A new -based technology named Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response (FINDER) has been developed by the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and the National Aeronautics Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to detect a human heartbeat buried beneath 30 feet of crushed materials, hidden behind 20 feet of solid concrete, and from a distance of 100 feet in open spaces. In the past several months, S&T and JPL have been testing and developing several FINDER prototypes. Last June, DHS and first responders used the prototype to conduct more than 65 test searches with two Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) teams: the Virginia Task Force One (VA-TF1) at the Fairfax County Fire Department training center and Virginia Task Force Two (VA-TF2) in Virginia Beach, Va.

"Testing proved successful in locating a VA-TF1 member buried in 30 feet of mixed concrete, rebar, and gravel rubble from a distance of over 30 feet," said John Price, S&T program manager. "This capability will complement the current Urban Search and Rescue tools such as canines, listening devices, and video cameras to detect the presence of living victims in rubble."

In disaster scenarios, such as earthquakes and tornadoes, the is made up of twisted and shattered materials. Radar signals bounce back so signals are complex. "Isolating the relatively weak signal of a heartbeat within the noisy signals becomes a difficult task," said Edward Chow, JPL program manager. "JPL's radar expertise helps in this challenge."

JPL uses advanced data processing systems to pick out faint signals. The microwave radar technology is sensitive enough to distinguish the unique signature of a human's breathing pattern and heartbeat from other living creatures. The advantage of this technology is in allowing first responders to quickly ascertain if a living victim is present in the debris. The technology is sensitive enough that victims, whether conscious or not, can easily be detected, which helps responders decide the most efficient course of action.

"It is anticipated that a commercialized technology could be ready to be used in operations as early as spring 2014," Price said.

The earlier tests have resulted in design changes being incorporated into the new version of the device, including a revised user interface and increased battery life of up to 14 hours. The mechanical and electronic design has evolved with the core being a lightweight 3"x3"x1" sensing module that uses a USB interface to integrate an antenna, radar electronics and digital processing.

With a wealth of practitioner input and recommendations following the test searches, the research partners have continued development efforts to construct a final prototype. Future phases of development will focus on a more specific locator function which will help determine, not only the presence of a victim, but also more precisely where in the rubble the victim is located. The latest version will be demonstrated in late September with the Virginia Task Force One at the Fairfax County Fire Department training center.

Explore further: New filter technology uses inert gas to bore holes in high-quality steel

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Rapidly rescuing those trapped beneath concrete

Sep 21, 2011

When the twin towers collapsed on September 11, 2011, one of the most critical challenges that first responders faced was cutting through concrete to get to victims trapped under debris – a painful and ...

Rescue Robot Tests To Offer Responders High-Tech Help

Jun 12, 2007

National Institute of Standards and Technology engineers are organizing the fourth in a series of Response Robot Evaluation Exercises for urban search and rescue (US&R) responders to be held on June 18-22, ...

JPL, Masten testing new precision landing software

Aug 13, 2013

(Phys.org) —A year after NASA's Mars rover Curiosity's landed on Mars, engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., are testing a sophisticated flight-control algorithm that could ...

Goldstone radar snags images of asteroid 2013 ET

Mar 19, 2013

(Phys.org) —A sequence of radar images of asteroid 2013 ET was obtained on March 10, 2013, by NASA scientists using the 230-foot (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, Calif., when the asteroid ...

Harnessing robot research a searching task

Mar 25, 2013

A new laboratory dedicated to technologies at the cutting edge of an emerging field of robotics could radically improve the way search and rescue operations are conducted. The Monash Swarm Robotics Laboratory ...

Recommended for you

Augmented reality helps in industrial troubleshooting

13 hours ago

At a "smart" factory, machines reveal a number of data about themselves. Sensors measuring temperature, rotating speed or vibrations provide valuable information on the state of a machine. On this basis, ...

3D printed nose wins design award

Aug 27, 2014

A Victoria University of Wellington design student is the New Zealand finalist for the James Dyson Award 2014 for his Master's project—a 3D printed prosthetic nose.

User comments : 0