Metron's expertise in physical system modeling, simulation systems, probability theory, operations research, and software development stretches back to the company's founding in 1984. (See our website, www.metsci.com, for more background.) We have a long and rich history of tackling challenging problems in the application of search theory for the Navy and other customers. Search operations permeate naval missions, whether finding and tracking submarines, scanning the ocean for surface targets, or hunting for mines. Our technical staff is composed of recognized experts in search theory, characterizing target behavior, data fusion, tracking, and anomaly detection. Our previous CEO (now Chief Scientist), Lawrence D. Stone, wrote the seminal text Theory of Optimal Search, which was awarded the Lanchester Prize by the Operations Research Society of America as the best work in operations research in 1975. Dr. Stone performed probability mapping, scenario development, and search assessment for the US Navy in the 1968 search for the submarine Scorpion and for the 1985 search for the shipwrecked gold-carrying USS Central America off the coast of North Carolina. He was the principal architect for the Search and Rescue Optimal Planning System (SAROPS), a program of record in the US Coast Guard since 2006. Dr. Stone directed Metron's support to the French government in the search for the wreckage of Air France Flight 447 in 2010, and continues working in applications of search theory supporting the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency.
The concept for SARApp was born out of lessons learned from previous land searches. One of the most frequent problems with managing a large-scale search proved to be documentation of what areas had already been covered, and deciding where to go next. Personal GPS tracking devices usually required specialized cords to download search tracks to a computer for display. Most organizations didn't seem to go through the trouble of doing this, and were instead forced to estimate the Probablity of Detection resulting from their search efforts. When the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) sent out a request for proposals for innovative mobile applications, Metron responded with a concept paper to fill this identified capability gap, outlining what eventually became SARApp.
Some of the more significant operational search work that Metron has performed in the last ten years is described below for additional background.
Search and Rescue Optimal Planning System (SAROPS)
SAROPS is the software used by the U.S. Coast Guard for Maritime Search Planning. It has been a program of record since 2006 and has been credited with several high-profile "saves" since it went operational. SAROPS allows the user to input multiple hypothetical scenarios for the fate of an overdue or sinking vessel, then simulates the probabilistic location of the wreckage/survivors accounting for winds and currents. The software employs Monte Carlo simulation by tracking thousands of simulated "particles" representing the possible drift path of survivors. SAROPS can handle multiple scenarios and several different types of search object types (person in the water, drifting wreckage, drifting vessel not under power, etc.); it also models pre-distress motion and hazards and accounts for the negative results of previous searches.
Metron developed the mathematical algorithms used in SAROPS to account for target behavior, probability mapping, search effectiveness, and recommendations for the optimal employment of search assets (including recommended ladder search patterns). Another SAROPS team member developed the ties to an environmental database for real-time winds and currents, and the prime contractor was responsible for the software user interface.
In July 2009 Metron was contracted to perform data analysis, probability mapping, and search assessment for the French Office of Civil Aviation Bureau of Investigations and Analysis ("BEA" - U.S. NTSB equivalent) supporting the search for Air France Flight 447, an Airbus 330 that crashed in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Brazil under mysterious circumstances. Metron analysts used classical Bayesian estimation theory to evaluate the available data, quantify errors, and combine information to compose a probability map of the potential crash location (shown below). In addition to aerodynamic modeling and analysis of aircraft error messages, Metron worked with the U.S. Coast Guard to use SAROPS to "reverse drift" floating debris back to its apparent point of origin to generate additional evidence to identify the crash location. The various search efforts were then assessed for probability of detection and applied to this probability map to generate a "posterior" probability map of the likely crash locations. Metron's recommendations were used in follow-on sonar searches of the ocean bottom in August 2009 and (after a re-evaluation was performed) again in March 2010. The Airbus wreckage was located at a depth of over 10,000 feet in a high-probability area shortly after the search was resumed in March. BEA credited Metron's analysis with facilitating the discovery of the wreckage and subsequent recovery of the two black boxes, critical to understanding the cause of the crash.
Metron analysis supported the AF447 search
Search for Steve Fossett
In January 2008, Metron analysts performed data analysis and probability mapping in a volunteer capacity for the family of famed adventurer Steve Fossett, who disappeared along the Nevada-California border during a pleasure flight in a light plane in September 2007. Using a modification of the SAROPS software for overland SAR, Metron analysts assessed available evidence, generated hypotheses for Fossett's route of flight, performed an assessment of search efforts applied, and made recommendations to the family for future search efforts based on the resulting map of posterior probabilities of the crash location. Metron's lead analyst also performed field search work for the Fossett search, flying in search aircraft and playing a key role in a major ground search of high-probability areas in Nevada (including generating search tasking, downloading GPS search tracks, and updating maps with coverage estimates).