A SURface PICture (SURPIC) of an Area of the Ocean

Sail plan, position and/or diversion data reported to the Amver Center computer is used to produce a Surface Picture (referred to as a SURPIC) of an area of the ocean, which indicates the relative position of all Amver-participating ships around a specific geographic point (the location of the ship in distress.)

See a SURPIC Example

It resembles an air traffic controller's screen. The ship in distress is at the center position of intersecting crosshairs and a series of concentric circles indicating mileage increments from the position of the distress. The SURPIC can show the position of ships from a radius of as little as 50 miles around, out to 500 miles around. Obviously, the larger and further the radius, the more steaming time would be required for one ship to come to the aid of another.

The Search and Rescue (SAR) mission coordinator, typically in a rescue coordination center, calls up a SURPIC by inputting the latitude and longitude of a ship in distress; the desired radius of the SURPIC, usually 250 miles around; and the date and time of the information desired, which can be either real-time or projected several hours ahead in the event of a vessel dead in the water, which winds and currents will cause to drift significantly over a period of time.

The SURPIC can be in a radius (or circular) format, or in a rectangular format (which makes it easier for the SAR mission coordinator to overlay aircraft search patterns.) Once the parameters have been input, the Amver Center computer will provide a listing in text format of the Amver-participating ships in the area.

The SURPIC will list each ship's name, radio call sign and predicted latitude and longitude (based on each ship's reported course and speed, calculated by a system of dead reckoning.) The computer will also indicate (based on its calculations from the position of each ship to the ship in distress), the hours to intercept; the distance in nautical miles; and it will have already calculated the new course each ship must come to in order to make the intercept.

For the information of the SAR mission coordinator, the computer will indicate the national flag of each ship, whether it is carrying a doctor, nurse or paramedic (as reported in the sail plan), and the Inmarsat telephone number of the ship, if it is carrying such equipment.

However, as the saying goes, one picture is worth a thousand words, so the SAR mission coordinator can also "plot" this data in graphical format (similar to the air traffic controller's screen.) The SURPIC now indicates the ship in distress at the center of the crosshairs, and an icon indicating the relative position of each Amver-participating ship to it. By "clicking" on the icon with a computer mouse, two databases of information about that ship can be opened in a "windows" format.

The first "window" is downloaded from the Lloyds Register Fairplay database, to which the U.S. Coast Guard subscribes, and which is updated twice a month to reflect changes. This database indicates the type and size of the ship, its physical characteristics, and the speed it is capable of making. The second "window" is information reported specifically to Amver by way of the sail plan and position reports. This data indicates such items as whether the ship is carrying a radio officer, the normal watch and which radio station the ship is in contact with, and/or whether there are trained medical personnel on board.

After quickly reviewing and evaluating the information presented, the SAR mission coordinator can select the best one or several ships to respond to the emergency. A number of considerations and variables go into this selection. The closest ship might obviously be asked to divert, or perhaps one further away that can make better speed. In a medical emergency, the ship with the doctor or nurse may be asked to respond.

Weather and sea state conditions might mitigate against diverting a relatively smaller ship to respond. Conversely, a ship with a smaller freeboard (height above water) might be better suited to recover survivors from a raft in heavy seas than a huge supertanker or containership. And, of course, considering the commercial nature of the ships involved, a SAR mission coordinator would prefer to divert a ship heading toward the distress, rather than turn one around, all other things being equal. Amver provides all this invaluable information in seconds, at the touch of a button.

Another type of SURPIC (called a "Trackline" or "Snapshot" SURPIC) is used in aviation emergencies to look "downrange" of an aircraft in distress and determine an area where there is a cluster of ships that could conduct an immediate recovery effort for passengers/survivors. This benefit could enable the SAR mission coordinator to arrange with the aircraft for a controlled ditching into a specific area of the ocean, favorable to a successful rescue operation.

Requests for SURPICs from rescue coordination centers (RCCs) outside the United States are processed by the nearest U.S. Coast Guard RCC, and forwarded by the most expeditious means (telephone, fax, telex) to assist in that nation's response to an emergency within its area of responsibility under international agreements. Amver computer terminals reside only in U.S. Coast Guard RCCs to ensure Amver data is used only for SAR purposes.