Survivor Location and Mapping in Disaster Zones: Resilient Search-and-Rescue Technology

Expediated Survivor Recovery

At a Glance

Researchers at Colorado State University have developed a novel approach for Search-and-Rescue Operations (SAROs) post-disaster, leveraging wireless network cells and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to locate survivors using their own mobile devices. This technology, called UE-based SAROs (UE – user equipment), provides vital information to first responders by generating immediate crisis maps and identifying survivor clusters without requiring active communication from the victims.


The commercial cellular networks play vital roles in the effectiveness of life rescue operations after disasters strike, enabling first response agencies to exchange information during emergency situations and hence prioritize their operations to save lives and manage the available resources. Essentially, disaster victims can use their cellular mobile device (also called user equipment (UE)) for video streaming, making texts/calls, and even location sharing wherever they are located in disaster-impacted areas. However, the infrastructure of these networks can be devastated partially or completely by natural disasters (or attacks). Additionally, survivors might be unable to use their UEs for telecommunication after a disaster due to injuries or unconsciousness.  In this case, the cellular communication becomes very limited or no longer available, leaving both the disaster victims and first responders isolated and unreachable.


UE-based SAROs leverage the widespread use of wireless mobile devices carried by survivors to locate them without requiring active user involvement. By analyzing signaling messages sent by these devices, the technology generates crisis maps indicating survivor distributions, prioritizing search efforts for first responders. Notably, reference signal received power (RSRP) measurements are utilized to assess the signal strength from these devices, enhancing the accuracy of survivor location estimation. This approach proves invaluable in scenarios where cellular infrastructure is damaged or non-functional, facilitating timely and efficient search-and-rescue operations.


  • UEs utilized can be basic phones, smartphones/watches, or tablets to even more sophisticated devices for monitoring biometrics.
  • Quickly locate survivors stuck in disaster areas, with little or no ability to access cellular service.
  • Provides immediate crisis maps for disaster-impacted areas, enhancing situational awareness for first responders.
  • Identifies survivor clusters and their locations, enabling prioritization of search efforts.
  • Improves the safety of first responders by guiding them away from hazardous areas and towards where they are most needed.
  • Has potential applications in military and defense scenarios, such as locating injured soldiers or civilians in conflict zones, where traditional cellular networks are compromised.
  • Can be used in urban environments with densely populated areas, aiding in locating survivors trapped under debris or in collapsed buildings more effectively.


  • Disaster response and emergency management operations
  • Public safety and law enforcement agencies
  • Humanitarian aid organizations
  • Urban search-and-rescue teams
Last Updated: April 2024
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Alaa Alsaeedy
Edwin Chong

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