NOAA satellites played a key role in rescuing 260 people throughout the United States and its surrounding waters from potentially life-threatening emergencies in 2004. This years number of rescues is an increase from the 224 lives saved in 2003.
NOAAs polar-orbiting and geostationary satellites, along with Russias Cospas spacecraft, are part of the sophisticated, international Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking System, called COSPAS-SARSAT. The system uses a cluster of satellites to detect and locate distress signals from emergency beacons onboard aircraft, boats and from hand-held personal locator beacons. Once the satellites pinpoint the location of the distress within the United States or surrounding waters, the information is relayed to the SARSAT Mission Control Center in Suitland, Md., and sent to a Rescue Coordination Center (RCC), operated by the U.S. Air Force, or U.S. Coast Guard.
This is an outstanding example of how NOAA science brings great value to the nation, said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. Americans rely on NOAA for a wide variety of services and saving lives is one of our most important missions.
The emergency beacons use the satellites that are part of NOAAs observing network of land, sea and atmospheric sensors that help the agency gather weather, water and climate data, protect and manage fisheries and marine ecosystems, promote efficient and environmentally safe commerce and transportation, and provide vital information in support of homeland security.
Last year also saw a rise in the number people buying and registering emergency beacons 18,343 beacons were registered in 2004, compared with 15,377 in 2003. Without question, the increase in rescues is linked to the growing number of emergency beacons in use, said Gregory W. Withee, assistant administrator of NOAAs Satellites and Information Service. In each case, a rescue equals a life saved, which is what the SARSAT program is all about.
Since its creation in 1982, COSPAS-SARSAT has been credited with more than 18,000 rescues worldwide, including 4,917 in the United States. Each year, most of the rescues happen at sea. In 2004, for example, 223 of the total 260 people saved in the United States were waterborne rescues.
Ajay Mehta, NOAAs SARSAT program manager, said an aggressive educational outreach about emergency beacons, and advanced technology onboard vessels, which helps keep them from harms way, is fueling the increase in lives saved. Were targeting the recreational enthusiasts boaters, pilots, campers and hikers with the message that owning an emergency beacon, and using it properly, can be the difference between life and death.
Personal Locator Beacons, used by hikers, campers and other outdoor enthusiasts, have saved 38 lives since they became operational nationwide in July 2003.
Mehta added that registering the beacons, which is required by law and can be done online, puts response teams in a better position to make a rescue. We have the owners name, address, phone number, and even a way to contact family members, all of which helps the RCC respond when time is critical.
Mehta also said older beacons, which operate on the 121.5 MegaHertz frequency, will be phased out by early 2009, when newer, more accurate 406 Mega-Hertz beacons will be the standard.
The 121.5 mega-hertz beacons hamper search and rescue efforts because of their poor location accuracy, and lack of any identification, which means we dont know if the distress signal is coming from an actual emergency beacon, or a faulty television, Mehta said. The newer 406 MegaHertz beacons can be instantly detected, and use global positioning system technology, which helps us identify, verify and locate distress signals faster and more accurately, while reducing the impact of false alerts.
Emergency beacon owners can register their devices online, using the National Beacon Registration Database: http://www.beaconregistration.noaa.gov
NOAA Satellites and Information Service is Americas primary source of space-based oceanographic, meteorological and climate data. NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nations coastal and marine resources.
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