InternetSAR.org: Volunteers collaboratively analyzing aerial and satellite imagery to assist in search and rescue efforts.

InternetSAR.org

Volunteers collaboratively analyzing aerial and satellite imagery to assist in search and rescue efforts.

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About Us

InternetSAR was founded in November 2007 as a result of the collaborative Google Earth/Amazon MTurk Internet imagery search for Steve Fossett, who went missing on September 3, 2007, while flying over southern Nevada. After the Internet search was called off by Amazon's MTurk, a group of committed volunteers worked to continue the Internet search effort for Steve Fossett. With some sleuthing, one member of this group figured out how to write the Google Earth KML imagery overlays of available imagery and designed an overlay generator which allowed the Internet search effort to continue.

From this effort to continue the Internet search for Steve Fossett, the group discussed online how the Internet image analysis process used in search and rescue could be developed and improved. Through the discussions and efforts of these volunteers who were so dedicated to finding someone they had never met, InternetSAR.org was born.

We are a group of volunteers from all over the United States, Canada, and from several countries abroad. Our backgrounds range from search and rescue professionals, pilots, professional image analysts, skydivers, website developers and programmers to people that just have a good eye for detail and have extra time to devote to the search.

Our goal is to develop an efficient and cost-effective volunteer based Internet imagery analysis search process, so that SAR organizations all over the world can take advantage of this innovative way of using technology to assist rescue efforts.

If you would like to join us and be part of this effort, please register. If you have any questions, please contact us.

Where our imagery comes from

In order for us to be able to help SAR teams with search missions we must have aerial or satellite imagery that was captured for the search area AFTER the search target (e.g. plane) went missing. We do not yet have the capabilities to capture this imagery ourselves so the SAR team wanting us to conduct an imagery mission must provide us with the updated aerial or satellite imagery for the search area.  Once they have provided us with imagery, we work with the SAR team to prioritize the order imagery is evaluated in an effort to use resources and volunteer time in as effective manner as we can.

What kind of search missions we take on

Given the current state of the art of commercially available satellite and aerial imagery, in order to have any chance of success with a search mission we must be looking for something no smaller than a small aircraft. It just isn't possible to identify something the size of a human in imagery so we do not take on search missions for individual persons without a large object like an aircraft.  We will consider missions for missing boats and/or vessels on a case by case basis, but we must weigh how likely it is that they would have moved by the time we locate where they were.

For us to take on a search mission we must be looking for a recently downed aircraft or something of a similar size. There must be enough information available to limit down our search area to a reasonable size. All available information regarding this missing aircraft or object (e.g. ELT hits, planned flight path, radar tracks, last known locations, witness statements, etc.) must be provided to us once we have accepted a search mission so that we can conduct our own review of the information (where needed we will keep this information confidential to only our senior personnel). Finally the SAR team requesting our services must be able to provide us with aerial and/or satellite imagery of sufficient resolution to be able to identify the object being searched for and this imagery must have been captured shortly after the object went missing.

How our process works

Our part of the process is broken into three layers:
  1. Initial Observers: The first layer, which most volunteers participate in, is the initial observation layer. This is where volunteers repetitively request and visually scan imagery assignments looking for anomalies that might be of interest and file a report to our system when they think they have found something.
  2. Report Evaluators: The second layer is our report evaluator level. At this layer volunteers who have shown a keen eye while participating in our efforts and/or have a background in working with aerial imagery or as an aerial observer on SAR missions evaluate the hundreds of reports that flow in from our initial observer layer. Their task is to evaluate the reported object and compare the object in the reported image set against the object in the other image sets we have for the reported coordinates. Sometimes, we only have one set of imagery for a given set of coordinates sometimes we can have more than a dozen sets of imagery for the same coordinates. The report evaluator then scores each report on a scale of zero to four with the values meaning as follows:
    • 0 - Absolutely no chance of being searched for object;
    • 1 - Highly unlikely, but not certain;
    • 2 - Possibly object being searched for;
    • 3 - Highly interesting prospect;
    • 4 - Extremely likely to be object being searched for.
    Along with this score the report evaluator will write a description of what they see. Each and every report gets five evaluations at the report evaluator level and the individual filing the report can read all of the evaluations for their report(s). Some reports even end up being discussed amongst our report evaluators if they are trying to figure out what is going on. If after five evaluations a report has an average score of at least one out of four (five points total), it is automatically forwarded to our senior evaluator level and a notification is emailed out to our senior staff and senior evaluators.
  3. Senior Evaluators (Imagery Analysts): At the senior evaluator level we work on getting a better idea of what is going on. This can mean searching for and uploading more imagery data for the area surrounding the report, reviewing topo map data (when available) and carefully analyzing to object in question. If a lead is deemed to be of enough interest to forward on to the SAR team we then prepare a detailed report building a case as to why we believe the object is of interest and assign a priority score to it. Currently our senior evaluator level includes one professional imagery analyst and we try to have all reports at the senior evaluator level reviewed by them. Although the senior staff and senior evaluators try to come to a consensus about whether or not to forward a report on, if anyone at this level feels really strongly that a specific report should be forwarded on we will forward the report to the SAR Team we are working for on that mission.

How we are funded

At this point in time everything is done on a volunteer basis and we do not receive any compensation for our efforts from SAR Teams we are conducting missions for. Our server resources are donated by InternetSAR.org founder Ken Barbalace and other members of InternetSAR.org's senior staff. At this point in time we do not have the capabilities to provide aerial imagery acquisition services to search teams. We only have to ability to process imagery that is provided to us by search teams. We have not yet set ourselves up as a non-profit organization so we do not have the ability to accept tax exempt donations. It is our goal to develop to the point where setting up InternetSAR.org as a tax exempt non-profit organization is feasible and makes sense.

How you can participate

If you would like to volunteer to review imagery and help us with our search missions, all you need to do is sign up on our "Join Our Efforts" page. To participate you will need to have a high speed broadband Internet connection and you will need to install Google Earth on your computer.