Computers may determine when to stop sea searches

Researchers are working on a computer model that predicts how long somebody will survive when lost at sea, to determine when search and rescue operations may be stopped.

 The Search and Rescue Survival Model, developed by the University of Portsmouth’s Sports Science and Mathematics departments and the US Coast Guard, aims to support the US Coast Guard annual target of saving 3000-6000 people whose lives are in danger at sea.

The US Coast Guard currently uses a software system known as SAROPS (Search and Rescue Optimal Planning System) to calculate how far a person will have drifted and how large the search area should be. Data such as wind speed, sea state and water temperature is entered into SAROPS along with information about the victim’s sex, height, weight, and what they were wearing, to determine exactly how the search should be conducted.

“Using this new computer model will take pressure off humans making very emotional and sensitive decisions about when to end a search,” says Professor Mike Tipton, human and applied physiologist, University of Portsmouth. “When the model predicts that a victim can no longer survive, the search and rescue team can stop or redeploy the search. It will ensure that Coast Guard personnel are not exposed to the high risks associated with search and rescue operations any longer than necessary.”

“Calculating survival time will add another layer to SAROPS; it will be able to predict not only where a search should be conducted but when it should be stopped,” said Professor Tipton.

, sought the help of the university because of its international reputation for expertise in the area of survival in the sea.

“The University of Portsmouth has been able to tap into and analyze data held by the Institute of Naval Medicine and the Royal National Lifeboats Institution, both critical to the development of this survival mode,” Chris Turner, Ocean Engineer and Manager for the project for the US Coast Guard in Groton, Connecticut. “To our knowledge no other similar repository of this information exists - even in the US.”

More information:
www.port.ac.uk
www.uscg.mil

Image: RNLI/Edward Behan.

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