Rescue efforts go high-tech

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By Vince Luecke

PERRY COUNTY - In the midst of their search for an elderly Alzheimer's patient lost in northern Perry County this spring, members of the county's rescue squad relied on more than experience and teamwork. At their disposal were laptop computers loaded with high-quality aerial maps and global-positioning units able to chart their location in relation to the missing man's car, from which he had wandered two days before, and one another.

Edward Hassee, missing in woods and farmland near Doolittle Mills, was located safely and as he was being tended to by paramedics and first responders, rescue-squad members were getting a bird's-eye view of where the 82-year-old was found. They gathered around Darrell Taylor, who located Hassee, and pointed to the logging trail where the 82-year-old was finally located.

"The technology at our disposal allowed us to search more accurately and to pinpoint where we were in that situation," said Steve Hauser, director of the county's emergency management agency.

The county EMA received a grant last year to purchase 10 laptops and learned June 4 it had been awarded nearly $18,000 from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for the purchase of 17 additional laptops. Computers carry aerial maps with geographic landmarks such as roads, utility lines and pre-screened landing zones for medical helicopters.

The county's 911 mapping system has also been installed on computers, allowing searchers to quickly locate homes and businesses while en route or, in the April search, wide swaths of land.

Computers have been placed in EMA vehicles and at rescue stations in Tell City and near Leopold. EMA officials, including Hauser and deputy directors John Taylor and Greg Linne, have also received units, as have paramedics and police and fire departments.

The computers store the maps on their hard drives. Users who enter an address are immediately shown a map with the location marked.

The computers' batteries allow them to be taken anywhere and because maps change often, individuals assigned computers regularly download updates through a server in Indianapolis.

"Our recommendation is for those individuals who have computers to log on every two weeks and download the updates," Hauser said.

The handheld GPS units owned by the county and several EMA members allow them to plot their locations anywhere using satellites. All-terrain vehicles used by rescuers can be fitted with the GPS units, allowing them to keep track of locations already searched and prevent duplication.

That means better efficiency and saving time, Hauser added.

GPS units, as well as high-tech sonar operated by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources were used during the spring search for Hassee and this fall's drowning death of a barge worker in the Ohio River near Troy.

EMA members devoted an evening training session to GPS use this year at the courthouse.

The county has received other Homeland Security grants for other equipment, including 800-megahertz radios and personal-protection supplies volunteers would need in dealing with hazardous chemicals.