January 29, 2007
Lost in the Woods
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Welcome to GISWeekly! It’s tragically ironic that James Kim, a man who loved technology and wrote about gadgetry for a living, died in a remote, weather stricken part of Oregon, while trying to find help for his family.
Since that time, journalists and technology experts have reviewed what-might-have-been in an attempt to see how the tragedy could have been averted. Read about some new technologies in this week’s Industry News.
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Susan Smith, Managing Editor
Lost in the Woods
by Susan Smith
It’s tragically ironic that James Kim, a man who loved technology and wrote about gadgetry for a living, died in a remote, weather stricken part of Oregon, while trying to find help for his family.
Since that time, journalists and technology experts have reviewed what-might-have-been in an attempt to see how the tragedy could have been averted.
The Kim family became stranded on November 25th in a remote section of southern Oregon. The search began on November 29th when a family friend contacted the San Francisco Police Department. On November 30, a 16,604 square mile search area was defined, extending along the entire coast of Oregon and several miles inland. On that day, the Oregon State Police, Portland Police Bureau and all Oregon law enforcement agencies got involved. On December 1, the Oregon National Guard, Oregon Emergency Management, California Highway Patrol, helicopters and various other counties became involved in the search effort. Bear Camp Road, where many had become stranded in the past, was searched. By December 2, the search area narrowed down to 5,046 square miles. At this point, Edge Wireless became part of the command structure. Josephine County Emergency Management stated there was no official search at that time, although some searches had already been made by them. They did not have any information to suggest that the Kims were even in their county. One or two of the Kim’s phones registered on the Edge Wireless network, and a transmission had been received to or from on November 25th at 1:30 a.m. An employee at the Wilsonville Visitor Center had given the Kims directions for several routes between Myrtle Creek and Grants Pass, over the mountain to Golds Beach. Eric Fuqua, a
radio signal technician with Edge Wireless, had managed to identify a ping signal from the Kims’ phone and was also able to geographically locate where the phone had pinged at the time on December 26, which was in the vicinity of Bear Camp Road. Using the Edge Wireless cell tower map, authorities were able to identify the location of the pings.
In light of this new information, although Bear Camp Road had already been searched, a new search encompassing 531 square miles was launched on December 4. Fuqua told authorities that the "ping" indicated that the Kim phone was within a 26-mile radius of that specific tower, in Glendale, Ore. on 11/26/2006. Kati Kim and her daughters were rescued on December 4, one week after they had become stranded. The body of her husband James was found on December 6.
Why, when we have so much technology, was this search and rescue operation so difficult and took so long?
There are no simple answers. The area in which the Kims got lost was known by locals as an easy place to get lost. It was a long holiday weekend, and it appeared that there were
communication problems between some county search professionals. Additionally, the search and rescue operations were complicated by the fact the search area was not defined until December 2, when Fuqua provided some information. The weather also made the search difficult.
Mark Brender, VP, Communications & Marketing for GeoEye, satellite imaging company, said, “My view is that between map accurate satellite imagery, GPS receivers, and a satellite phone, no one ever needs to be lost ever again.”
Obviously, in the case of this search and rescue,
cell phones, even lacking coverage in this remote area, have emerged as the lifesavers of the Kims story. The additional geographic probability software that Fuqua used was enormously helpful in pinpointing the region of the cell phone pings.
Satellite imagery would have been more useful earlier in the search, but was re-tasked to fly over on December 6, the day Kim’s body was found. In a CNET article entitled,
Tech Tips for Wilderness Survival, satellite phones are said to be a better tool for emergencies in remote areas than cell phones or GPS. The hardware has come down in price and the service is less expensive, plus satellite phones do not require a cell phone tower within a certain distance, as a cell phone does. All you need with a satellite phone is a clear line of sight to the sky.
Brender said they had been following the Kim story for a week or so. Originally they had thought about using some archived imagery, but all of their images were cloudy, as is often the case in that region. “Then we received an email from a software developer in New York who recommended that we try to get satellite imagery over the search area. Our technicians said the satellite would be in the area the next day and it was supposed to be fairly clear. So we went ahead and tasked the satellite to image about 1,000 square kilometers of the search area.” Even though James Kim’s body was found that day, GeoEye still provided the imagery to the GIS manager for the county.
“Now imagery can be used as a search management tool and so searchers can actually have imagery at hand and see paths they couldn’t see any other way. Maybe they could see an SOS or maybe they could see a clearing where they could set a helicopter down and put more feet on the ground, whereas looking at a map, they wouldn’t see any of that.”
GeoEye has two high resolution earth imaging satellites, the IKONOS, and the ORBView-3 that both have ground resolutions of 1 meter, meaning they can see objects from more than 400 miles in space, that are as small as 1 meter in size or larger.
The satellites move around the earth in a polar orbit at 17,000 miles per hour, and from the North Pole, under the South Pole, back to the North pole in 98 minutes, so they’re moving at 17,000 miles per hour, or about 4 miles per second. “As we move around the earth, we’re able to look down with a very powerful camera and take images of earth,” said Brender. “Because there is GPS in the brains of the satellite, and GPS is embedded in each pixel, if we took a picture of your house, if we put our cursor right over that point on the left hand corner of your roof, up will pop latitude and longitude. These satellites are basically mapping machines in
Later this year, GeoEye will launch GeoEye 1, a satellite funded by the NGA that will have a ground resolution of 16 inches. “We’re really entering an age of transparency where nothing needs to be distant anymore.”
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