NOAA 2004-008
Contact: John Lelsie
NOAA News Releases 2004
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Personal Locator Beacons, Online Registration Get National Debut

Last year, (NOAA) satellites, with their sophisticated search and rescue technologies, brought 224 people to safety from dangerous and potentially life-threatening ordeals – from Alaska to New York State. The figure is a jump from the 171 rescues in 2002. NOAA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Also 2003 saw the debut of the Personal Locator Beacon (PLBs) in the continental United States. In July, the 406-megahertz digitally encoded, hand-held PLBs were authorized for nationwide use, after a successful test period in Alaska where more than 200 lives were saved with the personal devices since 1994. NOAA officials said PLBs have opened the door to faster, more accurate search and rescue missions, particularly for people who recreate in rugged, remote areas, where typical means of communication do not exist.

NOAA’s satellites, along with Russia’s Cospas satellites, are part of an elaborate, international Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking System, called COSPAS-SARSAT. The system uses a cluster of satellites in geostationary and polar orbits to detect and locate distress signals from emergency beacons onboard aircraft and boats, and from PLBs.

“NOAA and its SARSAT partner agencies are committed to combining advanced technologies to make worldwide search and rescue the best it can be,” said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “The COSPAS-SARSAT system is designed to save lives, and it did that hundreds of times last year.”

Since the system became operational in 1982, almost 17,000 lives have been saved worldwide with the assistance of COSPAS-SARSAT, including more than 4,600 lives in the United States.

All emergency beacon owners in the United States are required to register their units with NOAA. Last year, NOAA’s SARSAT Program Office unveiled a Web-based system that allows for faster and more up-to-date registrations to be handled over the Internet. The National Beacon Registration Database provides a convenient and secure way for beacon owners to provide their name, phone numbers and other critical information without having to mail or fax it. The system also allows the beacon owner to revise their registration information as it changes over time.

“Registration is not only required by law, but it is perhaps one of the most important responsibilities to owning an emergency distress beacon,” said Ajay Mehta, NOAA’s SARSAT Program Manager. “Without this critical information, the search and rescue centers cannot respond to a potential distress as quickly. That delay may be the difference between life and death.”

The National Beacon Registration Database is available on the Web:

NOAA’s Satellites and Information Service, which operates the SARSAT U.S. Mission Control Center in Suitland, Md., represents the United States in the international arena, providing the satellites, ground stations and a mission control center.

NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service is the nation’s primary source of space-based meteorological and climate data. It operates the nation’s environmental satellites, which are used for weather and ocean observation, forecasting and climate monitoring. It also monitors sea-surface temperatures, the ozone, and wildfires. The agency operates three data centers, which house global databases in climatology, oceanography, solid Earth geophysics, marine geology and geophysics, solar-terrestrial physics and paleoclimatology.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation’s coastal and marine resources.

On the Web:


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