HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When the towers at the World Trade Center collapsed, hundreds of first responders were killed and injured.
It happens at wildfires and other emergencies. Rescuers lose contact and need rescuing.
"We just went to a conference of firefighters on the East Coast a month ago and there were many scenarios of single-story homes where firefighters were lost because the site commander had no idea that they were in trouble. Right now their only way to communicate outside is through a radio. And radios can fail," Ismael Medrano said.
Medrano and David Siu work for Oceanit.
The Department of Homeland Security chose the company to design a portable wireless network that could track movement of emergency responders.
Their system is called Wireless Intelligent Sensor Platform for Emergency Responders (WISPER).
"It can maintain coverage in difficult environments, in caves, underground, in parking structures or in tall buildings," Siu said.
A handful of tiny wired discs are encased in heat resistant silicon and loaded in a canister the size of a coffee mug.
Firefighters would wear it as part of their gear.
"It actually senses the communication strength of the system. When the communication strength gets low it drops a repeater," Siu said.
The nodes feed a signal to a computer that gives a blow-by-blow of a fire fighter's condition.
"We'll be able to tell things like, how is their heart beat doing? What's the temperature around them? Are they moving?" Medrano said.
If a disc is damaged the network reconfigures itself to keep it on line. The discs are heat resistant.
"Those are able to withstand temperatures of over 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
WISPER is still a prototype. Tests are done in Oceanit's stairwell.
Next year the company hopes to do field tests with the Honolulu Fire Department.
Someday the system may save a life saver's life.