Rural communities to receive thermal imaging cameras to aid search-and-rescue efforts

Associated Press

Sixteen rural communities will receive hand-held thermal imaging cameras to aid in search-and-rescue efforts in the Norton Sound region.

The donation, worth about $150,000, comes from the Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. Plans call for the bi-ocular cameras to be distributed within the next few weeks.

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Dan Harrelson chairs the corporation's board and is a village public safety officer for White Mountain. He told KNOM (http://bit.ly/1qiyKvX ) the cameras should improve search-and-rescue operations significantly.

He said previously, there was one such camera, based in Nome, shared among all 16 communities. Getting it could take hours, even days, and first responders had to learn how to use it.

"You know, time is of the essence. It's critical when you're doing searches for people," he said.

Harrelson said teams will be able to practice using their own cameras now.

The cameras are water resistant and can operate in temperatures as low as 40 degrees below zero.

"Any source that gives off any heat will show up like a greenish-yellow spot on the thermal imaging unit," said Harrelson, who hasn't yet used one of the cameras himself. "The closer you are to the unit — up to about 400 yards, I believe — you can actually make out the figure of a person if they're standing there or laying in the snow."

He expects the cameras to be shown during the annual village public safety officer training event in Anchorage in November. He said that will be an opportunity for officers from around the state to check them out and see if it might work for them, too.

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Information from: KNOM-AM, http://www.knom.org