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NASAR 2003 Conference and Exhibition

NASAR SAR '03 logo NASAR (National Association for Search and Rescue) held their 31st International Search and Rescue Conference and Exhibition, "SAR 03," in Reno on May 28-31. Over 600 SAR professionals and volunteers attended and the mood was upbeat, though attendance was down a bit, which was attributed to the economy. In addition to the many excellent panels and seminars, this year saw the introduction of a Government Interface track on the session schedule with the emphasis on the upcoming introduction of PLBs (Personal Locator Beacons) into the inland SAR environment.  (see "PLBs Finally Approved for U.S.")

Hall Foss Award 2003 to AFRCC - Mike Tuttle (President of NASAR) at Podium, (L to R) Lt. Col. Scott Morgan (Commander, Air Force Rescue Coordination Center), MSgt. Scott Mounger, Maj. Allan Knox, Lt. Col. Roland Dixon, Maj. Paul David MeekNASAR's Hal Foss Award, its most prestigious, recognizes an individual or organization for significant contributions to Search and Rescue of a national scope.  This year's well-deserved winner was the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center.  This seems especially appropriate this year. It was the recent new leadership of the AFRCC who had the courage to make a 180 degree shift, ending years of opposition to PLBs by that command, that helped to finally paved the way for legalization of PLBs in the U.S.  Lieutenant Colonel Scott Morgan, commander of the AFRCC, instituted that about face. He accepted the award on behalf of all the men and women who man the AFRCC 24/7/365, "so others may live."

Lieutenant Commander Paul StewardSAR 03 also saw the last official appearance in uniform of Lieutenant Commander Paul Steward, who retired from the U.S. Coast Guard after 24 years of service the Sunday following the close of the event. Paul accomplished a great deal for the SAR community in his last eight years working at Coast Guard headquarters. He became known unofficially as "Mr. PLB" for his extraordinary dogged determination and valiant efforts in working towards legalization of the beacons. He has always been a good friend to Equipped To Survive and we wish him well as he exchanges the military uniform for a business suit in the private sector. We're glad that he will remain active within the SAR community as a civilian, where his knowledge, contacts and enthusiasm will continue to benefit us all.

LCDR Paul Steward addresses attendees at the Rescue From Above – The COSPAS-SARSAT System sessionThe Personal Locator Beacon oriented sessions ("Rescue From Above – The COSPAS-SARSAT System," "On The Cutting Edge – The Latest Technology in the In-Land Environment," "What Do You Mean My 121.5 Beacon Won't Work Anymore," "Can You Hear Me Now? PLBs vs. the Cell Phone Evaluation Results," "Help!  Here I Am – Managing Personal Locator Beacons – A Panel Discussion" and "How Fast Do You Want To Rescued? – Registering Your 406 MHz Beacons") aimed to explain how the PLBs function, how the alert system operates and how the state and local SAR community would be integrated into the alert chain. The two most critical sessions, the first dealing with how the system operates and the extensive two-hour long panel discussion were well attended.

The panel discussion proved very useful and informative with a worthwhile exchange of ideas and concerns that will help all involved to better manage this introduction of new technology. The panel consisted of representatives from the AFRCC, EMS Technologies who make the SARMaster software that the AFRCC uses and that states will eventually get, Civil Air Patrol (CAP), State SAR Coordinators from Oregon, Washington and Vermont, early adopters and believers in PLBs, and representatives from ACR Electronics and McMurdo, the two largest PLB manufacturers. 

Lt. Col. Scott Morgan, Commander AFRCC, moderated the PLB Panel SessionIn addition, in the audience and also participating were representatives from NOAA, Coast Guard, NASA, FCC and other PLB experts, including yours truly. LTC Scott Morgan moderated the discussion and opened the session with compliments to all who had played a role in bringing the PLB introduction to fruition, including some very nice words and recognition for Commander Steward and for Equipped To Survive.

Among the important points to come out of the panel discussion and the sessions that dealt with concerns expressed by some participants were:

New and Interesting Gear

Over in the exhibit hall there were a few things that caught our attention. (Click on images for larger images.)

Greatland Laser

Greatland Laser Rescue Laser Light - VIP comboGreatland Laser's indefatigable Jim O'Meara was showing two new lasers, one going into production, another a prototype.  The latest production unit is essentially the small Rescue Laser Light (RLL), originally designed to attach to the end of a Mini-Maglite flashlight, fitted with an adapter to allow it to be attached to a VIP (Visual Identification Projector) LED signaling and warning device. The idea is to provide both a passive and active distress signal in a single package.  The RLL remains self-powered by its own lithium battery, providing 5 hours of signaling.  The RLL sells for $90 and the VIP adapter costs $9.  The complete assembly including a VIP is $170.

The basic concept of combing a passive and active device in one package is sound and appealing, but the VIP-RLL combo falls a bit short, O'Mear's enthusiasm notwithstanding.  The VIP is not a true strobe or strobe-like device since it is so directional.  In our experience it does not provide a hemispherical signal that is really needed for an all-around useful passive signal.

In addition this combination isn't an integrated whole, the result is an awkward shaped device that seems to offer few obvious benefits beyond simply carrying both devices separately. The RLL is small enough to fit on a key chain, readily available, and the VIP itself is not too large for pocket carry.  The combined device is bulky enough and oddly-shaped enough that some would not find it comfortable for pocket carry.  The only obvious advantage is that the VIP body provides a very convenient handle with which to hold and aim the small RLL.  We'll have a better idea about the pros and cons when we've had a chance to test the combo out.

Finally, O'Meara also discussed another new development based on the RLL, a 4-inch long tube adapter to fit between the RLL and the end cap.  This will provide a 3.5-inch cavity for storing survival gear, such as a firestarter and tinder, and other odds and ends.

Jim O'Meara with his prototype Green LaserO'Meara also showed us a prototype of a 5 milliwatt green laser.  It could be used for distress signaling, one of the early prototypes of the original Laser Flare used a green laser to great effect, though the high cost and added bulk of the green laser modules will somewhat limit its market as a distress signal. The primary proposed use for the green laser is to project a line up to a few hundred yards long on the surface of the ground or water to provide guidance.

Held just off the floor surface in our impromptu demonstration, it was extraordinarily visible, both the line and the laser itself acting sort of like a beacon at the end point. There are many obvious potential uses for such a device from guiding emergency evacuations, definition of helicopter landing zones, marking off safe and unsafe areas, navigation guidance and the like. Unlike the typical Laser Flare, this laser provides both a line and two brighter end points that reportedly contribute to its ability to "draw" that long line on a surface.  We left the conference with a prototype in hand and are looking forward to experimenting with it.


Stearn Ultra 1F Inflatable PFDStearns was showing off their latest inflatable PFD (personal floatation device, as life vests are technically referred to) that incorporates a new inflator and CO2 charged cylinder.  The Ultra 1F Inflatable PFD ($200) has the inflation mechanism mounted behind clear plastic window and a red or green signal is visible to assess whether it is armed or not.  The same PFD is available as an Offshore model with an integral harness ($265).

The special CO2 cylinder doesn't have conventional threads; rather the cylinder is equipped with a plastic twist-lock adapter that fits into the matching Secumatic 4001 inflator. Once inflated the green turns to red and it is impossible to insert another cylinder into the mechanism without first installing a new auto-inflation pill or the manual override tab that places a large bright yellow warning in the window. We like the concept of being able to easily check the status of the vest without having to unscrew the cylinder.

Beyond this safety feature, the USCG Approved Type V PFD has the usual Stearns attributes, 33.7 pounds of buoyancy (150 Newtons) from the single buoyancy chamber, a nylon shell available in either Orange or Silver (Navy for the one with harness) and equipped with retro-reflective tape and a whistle. It comes with a pair of cylinders and auto-inflator pills stored in a storage pocket on the side opposite the inflator.

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First Published: June 10, 2003
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