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How does NASA help find people under debris?

When a large building collapses, the people trapped under the rubble must be found as soon as possible. Scientists associated with NASA developed a device that could do this very quickly over a decade ago. It’s about the FINDER microwave radar, which can “feel” the slightest movements through the thickness of the debris.

How do people find themselves under the rubble?

Unfortunately, Russia’s fierce missile and drone attacks on Ukraine are not always completely neutralized by air defense forces. From time to time, rockets reach their destination, which often becomes high-rise residential buildings. Then the whole country sees people dying under the rubble of their own homes.

But the damage done by these barbaric acts can be significantly reduced. The fact is that when houses are destroyed, large numbers of people die not during the demolition itself, but much later. The wounded, who remained under the rubble, are slowly dying from lack of water and medicine.

That’s why the rescuers immediately start working on the wreckage, and their main task is to quickly find the survivors. However, this task is not that simple. It is impossible to see people under the massive debris. And this is extremely difficult to hear, because even screams do not always pass through the thickness of concrete and brick.

Also, the injured person may be unconscious or very weak and unable to shout loudly. In these situations, rescuers rely on specially trained dogs, but even they are not always able to assist in a timely manner as it takes several hours to reach the injured. To do this, you need to know exactly where they are, and dogs often cannot point out.

Ruins in Turkey after the earthquake. Source: www.cnbc.com

NASA comes to the rescue

At the same time, the problem of finding people under the rubble does not depend solely on hostilities. It occurs more frequently, similar to the earthquakes that have hit Turkey recently. For these cases, in 2010 NASA experts began developing technology that could locate humans living under debris much more effectively than any dog.

Then the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) faced the consequences of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. In Port-au-Prince, hundreds of people were trapped in the rubble because they could not get to help in time. A request for the development of technology to prevent this in the future was directed to the US Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Administration.

The request was eventually settled at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California. Its employees already had experience gained during joint development with the military, the purpose of which was to hear a person’s heartbeat from obstacles. In fact, this technology was created so that the US military could see their opponents hiding inside buildings.

Now they decided to use it for peaceful purposes. This is how the device known as FINDER (Finding Individuals for Disaster Emergency Response) came about. Its prototype was created in a few years by the specialists of this laboratory with funding from the same Department of Homeland Security.

What is BULCU?

FINDER is essentially a microwave radar. It emits electromagnetic pulses of a certain frequency that can pass through the thickness of a solid material, gradually absorbed and reflected from it.

That portion of the energy reflected from the obstacles then reaches the detector and is analyzed. Due to the nature of the reflected waves, you can find out if there are large gaps under the debris. Moreover, the continuous pulse emission allows you to monitor the smallest movements. In this way, it is possible to detect the heartbeats of people trapped under the debris.

FINDER can distinguish between human and equipment movements, and even human and animal movements, which are important in fast-paced search and rescue operations. It is also a very compact device. The developers were able to place it in a standard Pelican plastic case used to carry various rescue equipment.

FINDER device
FINDER device. Source: NASA

The FINDER prototype presented in 2013 was not flawless. He could not determine the number of people trapped under the rubble. And some materials (e.g. steel) absorbed their waves too much and could not see what was behind them. In general, however, the prototype was approved to work, and work on it was ordered to continue.

Has there been a revolution in search?

Further development of FINDER is done by SpecOps Group Inc. was undertaken by from Sarasota (Florida), which licensed it with another company to create its commercial version. Its founders were Adrian Haruley and Tom Coulter. The entire management of the firm consists of former military personnel and NASA employees.

With the help of NASA’s JPL, SpecOps experts were able to create several new prototypes and significantly improve the radar. They even gave new features. Especially in its commercial version, FINDER can find people under debris. But in the future, some engineers switched to other projects, and the second company refused to produce this promising device.

Consequences of Hurricane Dorian
Consequences of Hurricane Dorian. Source: www.aljazeera.com

However, SpecOps continues to manufacture this radar. The latest version of X3 FINDER weighs only 6 kg and takes 30 seconds to set up. This device was first used in the Bahamas during the elimination of the consequences of Hurricane Dorian. However, it was used for a long time without extensive publicity.

The thing is, FINDER was mainly sold to government services within the US. Therefore, he was mostly known among American rescuers. But in recent years, the situation has changed: the radar was purchased by the rescue services of England, France, Norway, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines.

So it’s quite possible that a revolution in exploration will happen in the near future. However, there are several objective reasons that prevent this. Firstly, the market for such devices is extremely narrow. They are purchased almost entirely by government bailouts and almost always through inept public procurement systems.

Second, FINDER is not the only such development. Radars used to search for people operating at different wavelengths have been developed for over a decade. The results of these studies can be called successful, albeit with reservations, because none of them gives a 100% guarantee. In any case, the invention of NASA experts could save more than one person’s life.

Source: Port Altele

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