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NASA developed tracking system could help track firefighters for safety

A test of a new tracking technology, which can be followed on a computer map. JPL may have solved a longstanding technology problem for firefighters: how do you track them inside of buildings, which often block radio signals?
A test of a new tracking technology, which can be followed on a computer map. JPL may have solved a longstanding technology problem for firefighters: how do you track them inside of buildings, which often block radio signals?

US: A research team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has developed a POINTER (Precision Outdoor and Indoor Navigation and Tracking for Emergency Responders) tracking system, which can change fire fighting safety norms.

The technology could also benefit search-and-rescue teams in industrial or military contexts. In August, POINTER was successfully demonstrated for top leadership at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate, which has funded its development.

“To this day, the ability to track and locate first responders is a number one priority for disaster agencies across the country,” said Greg Price, DHS First Responder Technologies Division director. “It’s truly a Holy Grail capability that doesn’t exist today.  If the POINTER project continues along its current path of success, first responders will be safer in the future.”

Price observed the demo, along with DHS Under Secretary for Science and Technology Reginald Brothers and Deputy Under Secretary Robert Griffin. In September, representatives from fire departments across the U.S. visited JPL for a demonstration of POINTER. The tracking challenge was top of mind for Andrew Wordin, a battalion chief with the Los Angeles Fire Department: just weeks before, a firefighter became lost in a building after a roof gave way under him.

“They immediately declared a mayday,” Wordin said. “As soon as that happens, everything stops. All radio traffic stops. All incident management stops.”

Everyone’s job becomes finding that lost firefighter and ensuring his safety. Wordin called the POINTER demo “very exciting,” saying it showed promise for addressing the tracking problem inside of buildings.