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Service Supports South-of-the-Border Sea Survival

February 15, 2011
By Maryann Lawlor, SIGNAL Online Exclusive
E-mail About the Author

The U.S. Coast Guard is providing its Search and Rescue Optimal Planning System (SAROPS) to the navy of the United Mexican States. The partnership is designed to assist Mexico in developing maritime rescue coordination centers and improving its search and rescue capabilities.

“We’ve done a lot of work with our neighbor to the south, assisting Mexico in a couple of areas. Now, we are assisting its navy in improving and increasing its capability in regard to search and rescue,” says Capt. Thomas Hale, USCG, deputy director and foreign policy adviser, Office of International Affairs and Foreign Policy.

“We are working with the country on getting the system in place in their rescue coordination centers, not only in Mexico City, which is their big command center, but also in some of the centers along the coast, mostly on the Pacific coast,” Capt. Hale explains.

SAROPS uses an animated grid model to project where floating persons or objects might be located. Thousands of simulated particles that users’ inputs generate are in a wizard-based graphical user interface. The system allows searchers to define the situation, access environmental data such as wind and water current patterns, compute drift models, simulate environmental hazards, predict survival time and develop a comprehensive search plan with available resources.

In addition, it can handle multiple scenarios and search object types; model predistress motion and hazards; and account for the effects of previous searches. By maximizing the probability of success, SAROPS automatically improves search-rescue unit (SRU) allocation. Each unit receives a recommended search pattern based on the relative motion between the SRU and the drifting particles.

“This is an effort of the Coast Guard at large in assisting the Mexican navy and government in developing their search and rescue program and capability. It’s an ongoing process. We’re doing the installation and some continued training. We shared the program with the Mexicans and are helping them get the computers in and get the program up and running. We’ve had students from Mexico come to our schoolhouses to get training on the SAROPS system,” the captain shares.

The Coast Guard also trains students from Mexico on the use of 47-foot motor lifeboats that right themselves when turned over in nasty surf, he adds. Mexico purchased the boats through the foreign military sales program.

Mexico is not the first foreign country to benefit from SAROPS. In 2009, Malta was the first country to receive the system for its own rescue coordination centers and a search and rescue training center. Coast Guard personnel spent a week in Malta installing the system and another two weeks training Malta personnel. U.S. European Command funded the $160,000 effort in Malta.