Although the search for millionaire adventurer and pilot Steve Fossett has been unsuccessful so far, there has been a positive outcome.
When Fossett went missing, satellite technology and the Internet allowed “searchers” anywhere in the world to study the search area remotely. It was the first time the method had been utilized.
As a result, a new website, InternetSAR.org, was created to help with searches in the future.
“We learned a lot during the three months or so of searching for Steve, and we didn’t want that collective wisdom to get lost,” said site founder Ken Barbalace, who has been involved in Web development since 1995. Although he is not a pilot, he was drawn into the search for Fossett by the utilization of World Wide Web technology.
“I joined the Mechanical Turk effort and from that ended up on the Google Earth community forum,” he said. “After the search was called off people continued to talk about it and there was a lot of ‘we shouldn’t lose what knowledge we have gained’ during the search.”
Barbalace registered the domain name and, with a team of like-minded souls who volunteered their time, went to work building a website, which went live late in November. The home page touts it as a place where volunteers can analyze aerial and satellite imagery collaboratively, to assist in search and rescue efforts.
When someone goes missing, the plan is for site administrators to work with local rescue agencies to obtain images of the search area.
“We upload that imagery to our servers and host and manage the Internet search process,” said Barbalace. “We are doing it pro bono for now. I am paying for web hosting out of my own pocket and everyone donates time and resources to make it work. In the first quarter of 2008 we plan to start the process to develop a non-profit and to pay for the site through grants and donations, so we do not have to charge the individual search agencies.”
Volunteers who wish to take part in searches first register online. To participate, they must have broadband Internet connections and Google Earth software on their computers. Images are then supplied to analysts, who supply filtered lists to search teams.
“Pilots are really great at this because they are used to looking down at the Earth,” Barbalace commented.
There is a link on the site allowing people to request a search, as well.
“In addition, people can follow the progress of a search by visiting the site,” Barbalace concluded.