A new portable radar device can detect heartbeats and breathing of victims trapped under rubble in a disaster.

Transcript:

You never know when a disaster earthquake or some other event will happen.

The faster you find somebody that means the faster they can be rescued.

In the search and rescue world they speak of the Golden Hour.

If you find someone within an hour of the incident occurring, the odds of survival are much higher.

FINDER is a radar called Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response.

It's a radar that sends a low-powered microwave signal through the rubble.

It looks for the very tiny reflections caused by the motions of the victims breathing and heartbeat.

We were approached by the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab about some new technology they had developed had and what we thought it could be useful for in the civilian emergency response world.

We've been out here testing now for about a year, on and off, improving the project, working with the Virginia Task Force 1 Urban Search and Rescue Team.

First responders can arrive at a disaster site and can rapidly look at a series of buildings and determine if there are victims in there so that we can rescue them in time.

We've got the radar set up on one side of our rubble pile and we have our victim on the other side of the rubble pile. The radar sends out a continuous very low powered signal.

It's about a 1000th of a watt, which is about a 1000th of what your cell phone puts out.

And we look at the reflections coming back.

So now the radar is looking through this pile of rubble and we'll collect some data and we can see the heartbeats that we know that there's somebody there.

We can detect that because it changes where the rubble does not move.

This allows us to distinguish the reflections from a human from those of an animal, which will have a different heart rate or a different respiration, and the rescuers can come in and remove the rubble and rescue the victim.

This is an outgrowth of NASA's remote sensing technology.

NASA has historically done lots of things where we look at the Earth from orbit or we look from Earth to the outer planets.

This will help a lot of the smaller teams.

The local fire rescue people such as Moore, Oklahoma, Oklahoma City or some of the other areas where a tornado comes through, collapses buildings, schools, houses and the only people there may be an engine crew.

But it's a big help to them if they can go ahead and know that there is somebody there versus searching through a pile spending a lot of time and effort, there's nobody there.

Meanwhile, somebody in the next pile over, or the collapsed building next door has somebody in that they haven't gotten to yet.

The whole unit itself weighs less than 20 lbs. and will be hand carried.

It fits in an overhead compartment of aircraft.

Fits in the trunk of a car. It's very portable. It'll be easy to use.

This is probably the greatest advance in the last 30 years.

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

View all Videos