On 1 July, 2003 the FCC with the support of the USAF, USCG, NOAA, NASA, and FAA legalized the sale and use of 406 MHz Personal Locator Beacons (PLBS) in the United States. PLBs are portable radio distress signaling units that operate much the same as Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (for use on boats/vessels) or Emergency Locating Transmitters (for use on aircraft). These beacons are designed to be carried by an individual person instead of on a boat or aircraft. Unlike ELTs and some EPIRBs, PLBs can only be activated manually and operate exclusively on 406 MHz. All PLBs have a built-in, low-power homing beacon that transmits on 121.5 MHz. This allows rescue forces to home in on a beacon once the 406 MHz satellite system has gotten them "in the ballpark." Some newer PLBs also allow GPS data to be integrated into the distress signal.
This GPS-encoded position dramatically improves the location accuracy down to the 100-meter level (328 Feet) Once activated the beacons are picked up the COSPAS/SARSAT satellites system which relay distress signals to a network of ground stations and in the Us Inland Region ultimately to the U.S. Mission Control Center (USMCC) operated by NOAA in Suitland, Maryland. The USMCC processes the distress signal and alerts the appropriate search and rescue authorities (Rescue Coordination Centers). A critical portion of the system involves registration of the PLB by the Beacon Owner. This can now be accomplished very easily via NOAA's Online registration system.
This registration data is forwarded automatically to Rescue Coordination Centers and SAR first responders, providing important beacon owner and emergency contact data in the critical opening stages of a SAR case. Under the U.S National PLB Distribution System (Currently under development) PLB alerts will be sent directly to the state agency responsible for missing/distress persons within each state.
During the transition to the automated system the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center will notify the responsible state agency via voice/fax to begin SAR response per our established legal state SAR agreements and Memorandum of Understanding. et).
The AFRCC as the National PLB Program Manager is continuing to work with each state SAR coordinator to update their State SAR Agreement and Memorandum of Understanding to address the PLB alert receipt Issue. We will continue to update this are of our web site as the program develops.