Avionics News September 2019 - 54

industry

406 MHz distress
beacons false alerts
R i s k i n g t h e l i v e s o f o u r re s p o n d e r s
BY LT. AARON D. COLOHAN,
NOAA CORPS - OPERATIONS OFFICER COSPAS-SARSAT

I

t is 0000 EDT at the United States Mission
Control Center in Suitland, Maryland, when a
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
satellite detects a 406 MHz distress beacon. The distress
beacon indicates that there is an emergency locator
transmitter activation from an airplane located in
Nevada. Search and rescue forces need to mobilize to
save a life.
Immediately, the USMCC notifies the U.S. Air
Force Rescue Coordination Center, and its team sets in
motion the processes used to save lives. They reach out
to state and local search and rescue teams and notify
them of a distress in their region. In turn, they notify
the men and women who conduct the rescue. While this
is happening, AFRCC controllers are investigating the
registration of the distress beacon, looking for contact
information and trying to get clarifying data. Someone's
life is on the line, and the personnel working with the
SARSAT system are determined. Every detected distress
beacon is a lifesaving scenario.
Except it is not. Not this time.
This time, SAR forces arrive on the scene to a hangar
at a local airport in Nevada. The plane is safe in the
hangar; the distress beacon was inadvertently set off
during routine testing. The registration information was
54

avionics news

*

september

2019

not up to date, so there was no one to call to find out
that the plane and its possible passengers were safe.
There was no one to tell first responders to stand down,
keeping them from risking their lives. It was a false
alert/non-distress activation, and it is something that
happens more often than not when a 406 MHz distress
beacon is detected.
In short, false alerts risk lives. They risk the lives
of the responders; they risk the lives of other possible
victims; they risk the materials used to conduct search
and rescue; they are an unnecessary and avoidable
strain on SAR responders.
False Alerts
With well over 610,000 registered distress beacons in
the United States and thousands more unregistered, it is
inevitable that false alerts and non-distress activations
will occur. The goal in the SARSAT community is to
significantly lower that number so that false alerts are
no longer the norm but represent a far lower percentage
of total distress alerts detected by the SARSAT system.
The SARSAT system treats every distress beacon as
an actual event, forwarding that distress alert to the
search and rescue responders. This is to ensure that a
timely response is coordinated if there is a distress ...



Avionics News September 2019

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