In the event of natural disasters or man-made catastrophes the ability to quickly detect living victims greatly increases the chances of rescue and survival. The Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate, Washington, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, are collaborating on a first-of-its-kind portable radar device to detect the heartbeats and breathing patterns of victims trapped in large piles of rubble resulting from a disaster.






This new radar-based technology named Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response (FINDER) was created to detect a human heartbeat buried beneath 30 feet of crushed material, hidden behind 20 feet of solid concrete, and from a distance of 100 feet in open space.


FINDER is based on remote-sensing radar technology developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to monitor the location of spacecraft the facility manages for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

‘FINDER is bringing NASA technology that explores other planets to the effort to save lives on ours,’ said Mason Peck, chief technologist for NASA and principal adviser on technology policy and programs. ‘This is a prime example of intergovernmental collaboration and expertise that has a direct benefit to the American taxpayer.’

DHS and JPL have tested and developed several FINDER prototypes, and in June DHS and first responders used a prototype to conduct more than 65 test searches with two Urban Search and Rescue teams – the Virginia Task Force 1 at the Fairfax County Fire Department training center, and the Virginia Task Force 2 in Virginia Beach, VA.

‘Testing proved successful in locating a task force member buried in 30 feet of mixed concrete, rebar and gravel rubble from a distance of over 30 feet,’ said John Price, DHS Science and Technology program manager. ‘This capability will complement the current urban search and rescue tools such as canines, listening devices and video cameras to detect the presence of living victims in rubble.’

JPL uses advanced data processing systems to pick out faint signals. The microwave radar technology is sensitive enough to distinguish the unique signature of a human’s breathing pattern and heartbeat from that of other living creatures, such as rats. This allows first responders to quickly ascertain if a living human is present in the debris. The technology is sensitive enough that victims, whether conscious or not, can easily be detected, allowing responders to decide the most efficient course of action.    Send article as PDF