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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Tech Note/Personal Beacons

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth’s Jennifer Chu reports on a new satellite beacon for hikers that may take the search out of search and rescue.


CURWOOD: Just ahead, little Rhode Island versus the giant paint industry. The first jury in the case decides not to decide. First, this Environmental Technology Note from Jennifer Chu.


CHU: Lost hikers will soon have an electronic alternative to the emergency signal flare. For the past 20 years, satellite technology has been used to search for downed planes and marooned vessels. Now for the first time, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, is making this technology available to the average adventurer.

The Personal Locator Beacon is designed as a small handheld device, about the size of a cell phone. In case of trouble, flip the cover up, pull the red tag, and send a radio signal to one of four orbiting satellites, which can pinpoint your beacon to within a mile of its rotation.

The satellite then transmits the distress call to a mission control center in Maryland where computers route the call to the nearest search and rescue team. The whole process could take between one to two hours; from the time a hiker sends a distress call out, to the time a rescue team comes in.

NOAA officials are working on a model that would include a return signal to let hikers know the distress call has been received and that a rescue team is on its way. Personal Locator Beacons will be available in sporting good stores this coming summer. That’s this week’s Technology Note. I’m Jennifer Chu.

CURWOOD: And you’re listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: DJ Cam “Friends and Enemies” BACK TO MINE (Ultra, 2001)]



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