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American Agencies Test Radar for Locating Trapped People

2013-11-17
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From VOA Learning English, this is the Technology Report.

When a building collapses, every minute is important for victims buried under the wreckage, that is why two American government agencies teamed up to develop a high-tech tool to find those who are trapped.

The Department of Homeland Security and NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration took part in the project. Rescue crews have been testing the state-of-the-art radar tool called FINDER. The name may short for Finding individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response. This radar device can recognize a person's smallest movements or even a heart beat, even when the individual is unable to communicate.

Earlier this year, Homeland Security and rescuers used FINDER to carry out more than 65 test searches in the American state of Virginia. They say, the tests prove successful in recognizing a human heart beat under 9 metres of mixed concrete and other material. The device was also able to identify a heart beat hidden behind 6 metres of solid concrete, and from a distance of up to 30 metres in open spaces.

It is an example of how space agency creations are helping people here on earth. FINDER's technology is based on the tracking technology that NASA uses for its spacecraft. Jim Lux is with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

"FINDER works by sending a low-power microwave signal, and it illuminates the rubble pile, and some of the microwaves go in and reflect off the victim inside and come back out. So FINDER sees both the reflection from the rubble, which does not move, and a very tiny reflection from the victim, which does move, because when you breathe and when your heart beats, your skin moves a little bit and we can see that," Lux said.

Jim Lux says the device is small, easy to carry and easy to use. 

"It goes out and collects 30-seconds' worth of data, because that is how long you need to get the heartbeat and the breathing, and then it analyzes it and displays it for the user," Lux said.

FINDER could be used with other tools rescuers use, such as listening devices or search dogs. Matthew Tamillow is with Virginia Task Force 1. He says the new technology could help rescuers in deciding which buildings to search.

"This type of technology, including FINDER, could aid in the assistance of triaging a building to say, 'Okay, there is a strong probability that a live victim could be in here, and we need to devote our valuable human resources into searching it,'" said Tamillow.

FINDER is still being developed and tested. NASA says it could start being used in search and rescue operation as early as next year.

And that is the Technology Report from VOA Special English. For more about our reports, visit our website at 51voa.com. We are also on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I'm June Simms.