Imagine a firefighter in a burning building, charging into rooms filled with smoke, flames, and imminent danger. Injury comes with the job, and when an incident occurs, search teams must trust communications systems to rescue our community heroes. Even with current global positioning systems (GPS), environmental surroundings, weather and uncontrollable circumstances can affect locating our first responders.
Consequently, the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is developing a new tracking technology to address this challenge.
According to S&T’s First Responders Group Director of Responder Technologies Greg Price, unlike standard locator devices, which use GPS, inertial measurements and other technologies, the Precision Outdoor and Indoor Navigation and Tracking for Emergency Responders (POINTER) uses a system of electrically-small magnetic field loops to generate a field of energy that can penetrate most material. A small transmitter, worn by the responder, sends location information to a receiver and then a base station.
S&T, in partnership with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), began developing POINTER in 2014. Recent testing, in structures that simulated the type of environments first responders operate in, revealed the technology is reliable with a margin of error of less than three feet.
Price explained, “A locator device that can pinpoint someone within one meter or less of their actual location is critical to keeping our first responders safe. We are very close to achieving that with our POINTER system.”
The next phase of testing will bring a three dimensional tracking capability into play, which will allow the system to track the position and floor where a responder is located.
POINTER will continue to go through additional field tests this Spring. It is expected to hit markets sometime in 2017.
“Besides assisting the first responder community, we could use this technology for a variety of response capabilities, such as a mine collapse to pinpoint the exact location of trapped individuals,” stated Deputy Under Secretary for S&T, and former firefighter, Dr. Robert Griffin. “In the event that they lose communication with their command unit, we will be able to pinpoint locations as close as three feet.”