The US Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory recently completed successful field testing of a new location tracking technology to enhance situational awareness for first responders.

The technology is called POINTER – Precision Outdoor and Indoor Navigation and Tracking for Emergency Responders – which will enhance situational awareness at challenging incident scenes by locating first responders via low frequency magnetic fields.

POINTER is a precision positioning sensor that locates first responders via low frequency magnetic fields. Unlike some existing location-tracking technologies that use electromagnetic waves, POINTER can penetrate dirt, earth, water and thin metals from a standoff distance of 70 meters, determining an individual’s exact position within a structure within 1cm of accuracy.

POINTER uses magnetoquasistatic fields to 3-dimensionally locate responders to within 1cm in emergency situations. (DHS Video by Science & Technology Directorate)

The Department’s Science and Technology Directorate will continue field testing POINTER in the coming months, leading to operational field testing with several fire response agencies throughout the country in the spring and summer. A commercial product is projected to be available in early 2022.

The first version will be designed for use in single-family homes, warehouses and buildings that are three stories or less. Future versions of POINTER will accurately track first responders in high-rise buildings, outdoors and in subterranean environments at a greater distance.