TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla --
Civil Air Patrol, the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, achieved a major milestone, recording its 1,000th find of a lost or missing person on the way to its 656th life saved since new, innovative technology was developed.
“Technology applications are woven into the DNA of the Air Force, and our Civil Air Patrol is no exception,” said Lt. Gen. Marc H. Sasseville, commander, Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command Region - 1st Air Force. “Our Air Force Rescue Coordination Center has a 24/7 hotline right into CAP so that we can get help to our citizens as quickly as possible."
CAP conducts inland search and rescue in the U.S. as tasked by the 1st Air Force’s Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and other agencies.
Civil Air Patrol’s award-winning National Cell Phone Forensics Team adapts, adopts, and develops tools to make performing search and rescue and other emergency services missions more efficient. Leveraging tools like cell phone forensics and radar analysis make it faster and easier to help locate—find—the subject of a search even in situations when it is not possible to launch an aircraft due to poor flying conditions, remote locations, and more.
In Civil Air Patrol terms, a find is recorded when the team assists local searchers in locating a missing person — in the 1,000th case, a 29-year-old hiker was reported missing on the western slope of Colorado. A save occurs when the missing person, typically in a life-threatening situation, could not self-recover, and was delivered to a safe place alive.
Cell phone data is often the first tool used in a search for a missing individual since most people carry their phone at all times. For example, a 39-year-old man who fell into the subfreezing Hoh River in northwestern Washington State was rescued in January. Twenty minutes after the cell phone forensics team was alerted, the man clicked on a message sent to his phone, providing a location with 12-meter accuracy. Local search and rescue officials quickly found him at the coordinates, which turned out to be 4.5 miles away from the initial location provided by the cellular carrier.
“Technology has changed how we operate,” said John Desmarais, CAP’s director of operations. "What used to take days of laborious searching is now done remotely using technology to find more people and find them faster."
Before 2009, the AFRCC assigned about 2,000 missions a year to CAP, with searches for activated aircraft emergency locator transmitters dominating. In February 2009, the satellite system that monitored the old style 121.5-megahertz emergency beacons was turned off, and the annual mission count was reduced by at least half.
Since then, the cell phone team has contributed to a dramatic rise in the number of saved lives credited to CAP by the AFRCC. “We’re saving more lives and doing more missions in a cost-effective manner,” Desmarais said.
In fiscal 2018, CAP was credited with a modern record of 155 lives saved in a single year. Most of those saves — 147, or 95 percent — occurred with the support of the cell phone team.
The team conducted 373 missions during the fiscal year. CAP’s search and rescue total team effort, which also included the radar analysis team and state and locally based ground teams, carried out 1,044 missions overall.
In 2019, that number stood at 798 search and rescue missions.
"Knowing a missing person was found or a precious life saved is one of the most satisfying things we, in this rescue business, can ever hope for," said Sasseville.
Contributions from: Mr. Steve Cox, CAP Public Affairs Manager and Capt Margot Myers, Cell Phone Forensics Team Public Information Officer.