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Published:July 5th, 2006 17:00 EST


By SOP newswire

As summer weather brings out more boaters, campers and hikers, NOAA satellites and search and rescue staff are prepared to handle distress signals from emergency locator beacons. (Click image for larger view of a Coast Guard HH-65 helicopter airlifting the crew from the grounded vessel Miss Eileen after it hit the Sabine Jetty in Sabine, Texas, on Dec. 21, 2002. Click here for high resolution version. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard.)

NOAA's polar and geostationary satellites, along with Russia's Cospas spacecraft, are part of the high-tech, international Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking System, 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 satellite pinpoints a distress location within the United States, or its surrounding waters, the information is relayed to the SARSAT Mission Control Center in Suitland, Md., and sent to a Rescue Coordination Center operated by either the U.S. Air Force (for land rescues), or U.S. Coast Guard (for water rescues).

"This program stands vigilant so that people can responsibly take part in outdoor recreation with less fear of harm, injury or death," said Ajay Mehta, NOAA's SARSAT program manager. "SARSAT is crucial because it can literally be the difference between life and death."

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 2005, 19 people were saved from January through March, but 72 were rescued from June - August.

"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 shouldn't leave home without an emergency beacon registered with NOAA," said NOAA Corps Lt. Jeffrey Shoup, SARSAT operations support officer. "Review the manufacturer's instructions of your emergency beacons to ensure you know how to test and use the device and avoid false alerts."

Since its creation in 1982, COSPAS-SARSAT has been credited with more than 18,500 rescues worldwide, including 5,218 within the United States and its surrounding waters. Most of the rescues each year happen at sea. From January through May 31, 2006, there were 97 rescues in the United States.

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. The distress signals from 406 megahertz beacons, which may use Global Positioning System technology, can be instantly detected and lead to faster rescues.

Emergency beacon owners can register their devices online using the National Beacon Registration Database.

In 2007, NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries in the 1870s, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners and more than 60 countries to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes.

Relevant Web Sites

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Media Contact:
John Leslie, NOAA Satellite and Information Service, (301) 817-4410