Anderson tests his system for North Shore rescue

Jun 12, 2003, vol. 27, no. 4
By Marianne Meadahl

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A hiker lost on the North Shore mountains May 24 is no doubt thankful that volunteer search and rescue members found him quickly. His relief can be also attributed to the fact that he had Peter Anderson (left) in his corner.

The SFU communication professor is not a member of the team, but it was his relationship with members that made the fast rescue possible.

Earlier the same day, he went out with members of the North Shore rescue team to finish laying the groundwork for a new communication system designed to enable access to the internet from wherever searches are staged.

“They got a rescue call that same night, and it worked like a charm,” says Anderson, whose volunteer work with search and rescue groups affords him the chance to test his systems and determine how to apply technology under a variety of conditions.

In the case of the lost hiker, rescue members were able to quickly access a website photo of the hiker and show it to a potential witness, who then confirmed his direction. He was found on Crown mountain near Grouse. Tim Jones, the team's search manager, says that made all the difference. “We certainly benefited from his work that night,” says Jones. “Peter's done a fantastic job of helping us to improve our capabilities. We are in a sense his crash test dummies.”

Improving the speed of communication is also desirable when analysing potential evidence. For example, searchers can more quickly rule out or confirm whether a photograph they've taken of a shoe print found during a search belongs to the missing individual.

“Having access to the internet wherever you are doing a search is proving to be vital,” says Anderson. “Being able to exchange files quickly can shave hours off a search and in some cases, can result in a change of approach and lead to a greater chance of success.”

Anderson has volunteered his expertise with search and rescue groups for several years and more recently has been focusing on problems related to communicating in extreme environments, particularly where radio signals fail and cellular coverage is not accessible or is unreliable. He is currently establishing experimental network connections to provide searchers with a reliable source from which to send or receive information that is critical to their search.

These involve high-speed internet connections using wireless access points at key locations where searches are most often coordinated. Anderson says there would be some initial cost for equipment as well as some network costs that would be part of their ongoing operating costs.

Companies such as Scotiabank have already come forward to provide start up funding for such equipment for the North Shore team.

“The payback is the savings in time and the improved accuracy of searches,” notes Anderson. “These volunteers are giving their days and nights, they're taking the risks of being out there. If they can be helped to more quickly confirm the direction for their search, then everyone benefits.”

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