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Efforts Inspire Improved Standards for Emergency Beacons
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November 14, 2005


COSPAS-SARSAT Upgrade Standards to Assure Real-World Performance

Some of the most critical Conclusions in the Equipped To Survive Foundation's ground-breaking first report on 406 MHz Location Protocol (GPS enabled) Emergency (Distress) Beacons (www.equipped.org/406_beacon_test_toc.htm) revolved around the obvious ineffectiveness of international and U.S. standards for these beacons to ensure that they would provide the real-world performance consumers should reasonably expect. Therefore, a call for better standards more closely related to real-world use was a principle feature of the Recommendations made in the report: (www.equipped.org/406_beacon_test_summary.htm#Recommendations)

Since the release of that initial report, Equipped To Survive Foundation Executive Director Doug Ritter has been an active participant on an RTCM (Radio Technical Commission for Maritime Services) subcommittee and at COSPAS-SARSAT Task Group and Joint Committee meetings tasked with revising the standards covering these emergency beacons. He is the only consumer advocate attending these meetings. At the COSPAS-SARSAT Open Council Session held November 7-10 in Montreal, Canada, revisions to the COSPAS-SARSAT 406 MHz Distress Beacon Type Approval Standard (T.007) were approved that significantly raise the bar for these beacons and implement many of the Recommendations made by Equipped To Survive Foundation.

Ritter said, "I have been pleased by the unexpected quick response of the international community to our findings. These revised standards represent a noteworthy philosophical shift on the part of COSPAS-SARSAT and go a long ways towards ensuring that these beacons will work as expected when lives are at stake. COSPAS-SARSAT is to be applauded for their efforts."

While the optimum metal ground planes previously used to test the beacons remain, a new test with the beacon isolated from the ground plane has been added. This is considered a worst case scenario and ensures that a beacon is not optimized only for performance with a special ground plane. COSPAS-SARSAT has recognized that these beacons are not just used in their design environments (EPIRB floating in the water, for example), but that they are often used in other environments (EPIRB on the deck of a vessel or inside a life raft or cabin, for example). With the exception of permanently mounted beacons in aircraft, all beacons, EPIRB, PLB and ELT, will now have to be tested with this alternate isolated ground plane.

COSPAS-SARSAT also added fundamental testing for GPS functionality. Previously, the only requirement was that it not interfere with the 406 MHz distress alerting. Now the GPS receiver will be tested with the beacon transmitting on 121.5 MHz (or an approved alternate test frequency when a 121.5 MHz homing beacon is included, always the case with all U.S. approved beacons). The homer transmission can cause interference with the GPS receiver. It must also be tested in real world environments with a 10 minute maximum location acquisition and transmission time and much tighter accuracy. While this new standard doesn't add any tests for performance with a less than optimum view of the GPS satellites, it is a huge step forward towards assurance that an optional GPS receiver included in a beacon functions at least at a minimum level of performance.

All of these beacons use the 406 MHz distress alerting frequency in conjunction with the COSPAS-SARSAT system of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites and Doppler principles to provide primary position information. The purpose of GPS-enhanced 406 MHz beacons is to save precious rescue time by supplying much more precise location information via their own GPS-derived location through Geostationary (GEO) satellites - ever present in the sky - rather than waiting for an orbiting satellite to appear in view and then obtain the less accurate Doppler computed location.

Ritter added, "Not all the recommendations we've made have been implemented. The RTCM SC-110 subcommittee continues to work on much stricter performance standards for GPS used in EPIRBs and PLBs, using GPS simulators for testing, and on other areas related to the real-world use of the beacons that are still in need of improvement. I will continue to participate on these committees, representing the end user, with the goal of further improving the standards for these beacons."

Ritter's participation is funded exclusively by individual contributions to the Equipped To Survive Foundation. The Foundation receives no government or industry support. Tax-deductible donations can be made at www.equipped.org/donate.htm.

Addtional information on Ritter's particpation in the revision of these standards and regular status updates can be found at www.equipped.org/406_beacon_test_status0205.htm.

The non-profit 501(c)(3) Equipped To Survive Foundation is dedicated to saving lives by raising awareness of potential survival emergencies, promoting preparedness as the key to surviving life-threatening circumstances, performing research and offering objective information to allow intelligent selection of effective survival equipment and supplies, providing education in practical survival techniques and procedures, and encouraging development of new and improved survival equipment, supplies and techniques. It publishes Equipped To Survive (www.equipped.org) as its primary educational outlet.

Contact: Doug Ritter


Executive Director: Doug Ritter
Email: Doug Ritter
URL: http://www.equipped.org/pr_11142005.htm
First Published: November 14, 2005
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