May 31, 2007 By News Report
As summer brings out more boaters, campers and hikers, NOAA satellites are ready to pinpoint the locations of a likely increase in distress calls from emergency locator beacons carried by outdoor enthusiasts.
NOAA's polar and geostationary satellites are part of the high-tech, international Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking System, along with Russia's Cospas spacecraft, called COSPAS-SARSAT. The SARSAT system uses a network of satellites to quickly detect and locate distress signals from emergency beacons onboard aircraft, boats and from hand-held personal locator beacons.
When a NOAA satellite pinpoints a distress location within the United States, or its surrounding waters, the information is relayed to the agency's SARSAT Mission Control Center in Suitland, Md., and sent to a Rescue Coordination Center, operated either by the U.S. Air Force (for land rescues), or U.S. Coast Guard (for water rescues.)
SARSAT statistics show a significant increase in rescues during the spring and summer seasons, versus the cold weather months. For example, from January - March 2003, SARSAT was responsible for 24 rescues throughout the United States, but during the June-August period, the number climbed to 96. In 2006, 59 people were saved between January and March, but 89 were rescued from June - August. For all of 2006, the SARSAT system rescued 272 people in the United States and its coastal waters.
"The SARSAT program is always ready, so people can enjoy the outdoors with less fear of injury or death," said Ajay Mehta, NOAA's SARSAT program manager.
Since its creation in 1982, COSPAS-SARSAT has been credited with more than 20,500 rescues worldwide, including more than 5,500 in the United States and its surrounding waters. Through May 11, there were 134 rescues in the United States for 2007, an average of one save per day.
"Anyone with plans to hike or camp in a remote area, where cell phone service is not reliable, or sail a boat far from shore should not leave home without an emergency locator beacon, registered with NOAA," said NOAA Corps Lt. Jeffrey Shoup.
Older emergency beacons, which operate on the 121.5 and 243 megahertz frequencies, will be phased out by early 2009, when 406 megahertz beacons will become the new standard. A key advantage of some of the 406 megahertz beacons is they use Global Positioning System technology for instant detection, leading to faster rescues.
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