H-GOLETA

May 21, 2013 8:18 PM by Cameron Polom, KSBY News

Goleta company's technology finding survivors after massive twister

A month ago, a company from Goleta helped police find the Boston bombing suspect hiding in a tarp-covered boat.

Now, it's helping to locate survivors buried in the rubble left by a massive tornado in Oklahoma.

They're doing it using thermal imaging.

The technology has been around since the 1960s, but the first time it was used in this type of situation was during 9-11.

First responders would attach miniaturized cameras to the ends of poles and stick them down into the rubble so they could get a better look where their eyes couldn't go. That's exactly what they're doing in Oklahoma.

On Tuesday, an EF5 tornado carved through the town of Moore, Oklahoma, leveling everything in its path. Today, the search is on for survivors.

"They are bringing their thermal imaging to the scene, and are looking for bodies that could be captured inside rubble or stacks of debris," said Bill Terre of FLIR, the company behind the technology.

As impressive as the human eye is, we can't see everything.

"The energy that's emitted thermally is outside of the spectral response of our eyes," said Terre. "So we can build detectors that can sense that energy and create a video signal or picture from those detectors."

The pint-sized detectors pack a powerful punch.

"Three-hundred thousand little individual detector elements that are all measuring the radiant heat, in a tiny microchip," said Terre.

The human eye sees visible images from reflected light, so if there's no reflected light, like in a dark room, thermal imaging is able to pick up radiated energy, which is emitted all the time.

"When we try and build a picture based on thermal energy, what we're measuring essentially is heat," said Terre. "So we build detectors that warm up or cool down based on radiated energy."

Originally used by the military to identify targets, the technology once used to take lives, is now being used to save them.

Rescuers say they pulled more than 120 people from the rubble after the tornado passed.

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