Radar Tech can Find Survivors Under 30 Feet of Debris

Members of the JPL team during FINDER testing (Image credit: DHS/John Price)
Whenever a natural disaster or a man made one occurs, locating survivors as quickly as possible is imperative. The first few hours are critical and the more time passes by the less likely it is to locate living survivors under the piles of rubble. To help locate survivors under the rubble researchers from NASA and the Department of Homeland Security developed a special radar which is so sensitive it can detect even a faint heartbeat under 30 feet of crushed material.
It can be an earthquake or even a terrorist blowing up a building , but the result is the same – people buried under enormous piles of concrete and metal. Those who survive needs to be rescued as quickly as possible. Typically dogs are used to try and sniff people buried but they have their limitations and they require trained operators to work with. Creating a device which can be used in the field to pinpoint a living human being deep underneath piles of rubble can literally mean the difference between life and death to survivors.
The Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response unit (or simply FINDER) is a new radar based system developed by the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate in Washington, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The FINDER can sense a human heartbeat buried beneath 30 feet (9 meters) of crushed debris or hidden behind 20 feet (6 meters) of solid concrete.
In June this year a teams from JPL and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) conducted extensive tests using the FINDER with two Urban Search and Rescue teams at the Fairfax County and Virginia. According to John Price DHS Science and Technology program manager: "Testing proved successful in locating a task force member buried in 30 feet of mixed concrete, rebar and gravel rubble from a distance of over 30 feet. This capability will complement the current urban search and rescue tools such as canines, listening devices and video cameras to detect the presence of living victims in rubble."
The main problem with using radar signals to locate victims underground is that the debris causes the radar signals to bounce back irregularly, making it very difficult to interpret the signals. Isolating the weak signal of a human heartbeat in such a noisy environment is a difficult task. Here came the expertise of the NASA JPL radar team to the rescue. The new technology is actually so sensitive it can distinguish the unique signature of a human’s breathing pattern and heartbeat from that of other living creatures, such as rats.

The technology which might have other applications as well is said to be ready for commercialization as early as spring 2014.
You can find more information on the FINDER technology on the JPL website.
This is not the first technology reported to be able to "see through walls". Earlier this year we covered a technology developed by researchers at MIT allowing to locate people behind walls using only WIFI!

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