News and Events

For Immediate Release

Handheld GPS: an Essential Tool in Wide-Area Search and Rescue


Post-Katrina rescue teams speed their work with Magellan® eXplorist GPS receivers

Santa Clara, Calif.   (March 26, 2006) "I've been to hell before, but this was the worst."
So said Scott Shields, President of the Bear Search and Rescue Foundation, reflecting recently on his group's work in and around New Orleans in the aftermath of last year's Hurricane Katrina. Strong words from a man who, with his 11-year-old golden retriever Bear, worked 18-hour days in the rubble of the World Trade Center, and whose organization is known for its efforts in the most challenging and dangerous search and rescue (SAR) operations imaginable.

In the post-Katrina environment, Bear-funded rescue teams faced a special challenge: finding and identifying their locations in a wide area in which street signs and landmarks had been destroyed or were under water. It's a tribute to the dedication of these workers and the easily accessible guidance provided by the newest handheld GPS units that they were able to work as well as they did. Getting to assigned search areas, maintaining accurate logs of where their work was accomplished and being able to return home before dark were no easy tasks, and they were done successfully in no small measure because of these small hi-tech GPS devices.

Magellan to the rescue
Bear teams were outfitted with 35 Magellan eXploristTM GPS receivers donated by the manufacturer, Thales Navigation. The group deployed 22 teams of volunteers around Louisiana as well as five teams that assisted the work of the Third Brigade of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division. Shields is an expert in mass-casualty marine rescue. "We worked from both boats and vehicles with the 82nd," he said. "There was no way to know were we were without the aid of GPS since the street signs had been blown away by the high winds or where under water. Our handheld Magellan GPS units outshone all the GPS devices I've ever worked with. Even the 82nd airborne people came to prefer the eXplorists to their own much larger and more cumbersome GPS receivers. Besides being the fastest I've ever seen in acquiring satellites and powering on, the eXplorists had an incredibly long battery life. The units are so small, about the size of a cell phone, and yet we were able to download and access complete street maps in them."

The 22 Bear-funded teams averaged 220 rescues each from the time they were deployed, - some units arriving within a few days after the storm - until the mission was completed many weeks later. The units of the Third Brigade 82nd Airborne assisted by Bear volunteers rescued more than 6,000 people.

The work continues, with GPS
The search and rescue work goes on today. One important task: rounding up and finding homes for the booming population of dogs and cats who were once family pets and are now free-roaming and free-breeding strays. GPS is an important tool for rescuers like Annie Lancaster, a California veterinarian technician, and executive director for Tortoise Aid International, who's spent months setting and retrieving traps in the woods around New Orleans as a volunteer.

"I used to spend half my time studying maps and scratching my head," Lancaster said. "Since I got my eXplorist 400 to help me locate my traps in the dark, my productivity has zoomed, and I'm using less gas driving around trying to get my bearings."

About Bear Search and Rescue
On September 11, 2001, Captain Scott Shields and his eleven- year-old golden retriever, Bear, traveled to Ground Zero from Greenwich, Connecticut to help in the rescue efforts at the World Trade Center. Bear was one of the first canines to search the rubble. He worked eighteen-hour days, and he is credited with finding many victims, including FDNY Chief Peter Ganci. Bear was injured while working the site and the periphery of his wounds became cancerous. Although Bear recovered from this illness, he died a year later of multiple forms of cancer. The Bear Search and Rescue Foundation was established in Bear's name in the fall of 2002. The Foundation was created to address the needs of both canine and non-canine SAR teams across the country by providing instruction in emergency management. The foundation equips search and rescue teams around the country, providing free air transport to active missions and training when possible, and provides health care to SAR K-9s that worked at Ground Zero and the Pentagon. More information is available at www.bearsearchandrescue.org.

About Tortoise Aid International
Tortoise Aid International is a non-profit California corporation dedicated to educating the public and halting the exploitation of tortoises, turtles, terrapins, sea turtles and all wildlife worldwide. Tortoise Aid operates a sanctuary/rehabilitation center in the western Mojave Desert. Their website is at www.tortoise-aid.org.

About Thales' navigation business
Thales is a leading international electronics and systems group serving defense, aerospace, security and services markets. The Group employs 60,000 people throughout the world and generated revenues of 10.3 billion Euros in 2004.

Thales' navigation business is a global innovator of navigation and positioning solutions. The company markets its Magellan brand GPS products in vehicle navigation and outdoor markets, and its professional GPS and GNSS solutions in the survey, GIS/Mapping, and OEM markets that include consumer electronics, automotive navigation and high-precision applications. Also, through its joint venture with Hertz, Thales Navigation has developed the Hertz NeverLost® vehicle navigation system.

Thales' navigation business is headquartered in Santa Clara, Calif., with European headquarters in Carquefou, France. For more information, visit www.thalesgroup.com/navigation.


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© 2006 Thales Navigation, Inc. All rights reserved. Magellan and eXplorist are trademarks of Thales Navigation.