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New NASA sensor could help in disaster recovery

A new device released by NASA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security could be the next big breakthrough in disaster relief efforts. The portable instrument, called Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response, or FINDER, is designed to help emergency responders find victims following catastrophic events — even when a victim is trapped under as much as 30 feet of crushed materials. FINDER works by sending microwave radar signals into disaster areas, allowing it to detect an individual’s heartbeat and breathing patterns. In addition to finding a person buried under 30 feet of rubble and debris, FINDER can also help sense someone hidden behind 20 feet of solid concrete and from a distance of 100 feet in open spaces.

Though FINDER is still in its prototype stage, the science behind it is nothing new: similar technology has been used in NASA’s Deep Space Network to measure the distance of spacecraft. Its use here on Earth, however, is an exciting new venture.

“FINDER is bringing NASA technology that explores other planets to the effort to save lives on ours,” said Mason Perk, NASA’s chief technologist and a principal advisor on technology policy. He also commends the cooperative effort of NASA and Homeland Security, saying “This is a prime example of intergovernmental collaboration and expertise that has a direct benefit to the American taxpayer.”

The device was first demonstrated to the media on Wednesday at a Homeland Security training facility. Official and comprehensive tests of FINDER will be administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and will begin next year.

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