Suitcase-size device may help save lifes of disaster victims

FINDER, developed by DHS and NASA, uses microwave signals to detect human heart beats and beathing patterns in rubble

Rescue workers with the Fairfax County (Virginia) Fire and Rescue Department pull a buried "victim" out of rubble after using a new technology called FINDER developed by NASA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Rescue workers with the Fairfax County (Virginia) Fire and Rescue Department pull a buried "victim" out of rubble after using a new technology called FINDER developed by NASA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The device looks like a small piece of carry-on luggage, but it has a more important job than carrying a toothbrush, deodorant and a couple of pairs of underwear.

The suitcase-size device is a microwave transmitter designed by two U.S. government agencies to help rescue workers find living victims buried in rubble after disasters such as earthquakes, floods or bombings.

The groundbreaking technology, called FINDER or Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response, uses microwave signals to identify the breathing patterns and heart beats of disaster victims buried in rubble, has the potential to be one of the "biggest advances in urban search and rescue in the last 30 years," said John Price, program manager of the First Responders Group at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate.

The suitcase device sends a low-power microwave signal into rubble to look for heart beats and breathing patterns, and rescue workers see readouts on a tablet-size Panasonic Toughbook controller. The reflections of the microwave signal can show tiny movements in rubble piles, said Jim Lux, FINDER tax manager at the Communications Tracking and Radar Division at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The technology is based on NASA tools to measure movements of objects in space and ocean levels, Lux said.

FINDER can find living victims buried under 30 feet of crushed materials or behind 20 feet of solid concrete, and the device can distinguish between humans and animals, based on heart rates and breathing patterns, officials said.

DHS and NSA have been developing FINDER for more than a year, and this week, they tested a prototype at an urban search and rescue training site in Lorton, Virginia, near Washington, D.C. Rescue workers from search-and-rescue team Virginia Task Force 1 and the Fairfax County, Virginia, Fire and Rescue Department were able to find a woman hidden in a pile of concrete rubble within minutes.

Finding disaster victims quickly "greatly increases their chances of survival," Price said.

In previous tests of prototypes at the Lorton training center, rescue workers gave NASA and DHS some "painful" but necessary feedback, Lux said.

NASA and DHS plan to make FINDER available to search and rescue teams worldwide when it's fully tested, Lux said. The agencies are already getting suggestions from the public on other ways that the technology can be used, with a 9-year-old from India emailing Lux some suggestions recently, he said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Jim Luxpopular scienceGovernment use of ITNASAsecurityphysical securityJohn PriceU.S. Department of Homeland SecuritygovernmentVirginia Task Force 1Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department

More about IDGNASANSAPanasonicTechnologyToughbook

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Grant Gross

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place