As members of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Underwater Dive and Rescue Team prepare for their busiest season, the crew are becoming more familiar with their newest equipment acquisition, the Kongsberg MS 1000. The 360-degree sonar equipment provides underwater imagery and data that can be viewed in real time.
According to Lt. Brian Francisco, it was purchased through a mutual aid grant from the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI). The cost for the sonar technology was approximately $70,000.
Francisco has been with the sheriff’s office since 2003. Two years later, he joined its dive team and is currently team commander.
The 15-member dive team is on call year-round, on a 24 hour, 7 days a week basis. They train once a month. Winter training includes ice diving and open water operations and, on occasion, pool sessions.
Divers are chosen through an application process. Training in different bodies of water helps prepare for emergency situations along with underwater recovery of evidence and stolen property.
“We do have members from outside the sheriff’s office. We have members of the dive team from the Monroe Police Department as well as several area fire departments,” Francisco said. “Summer is our busiest time of year.”
The team’s recent training session focused on learning more about the new sonar equipment. Mounted on a tripod under the water, the device, using software and a computer, offers a view of areas that cannot be seen.
“It’s a 360-degree sonar that’s placed in the water and it gives an image of objects in the water,” he said. “Basically, it paints a picture with sound 360 degrees around the device while it stays stationary in the water.”
When submerged, Francisco said, there is no depth requirement.
“It’s real-time sonar. When it’s in the water, as the sonar continues to turn, we can direct divers to the target of interest,” Francisco said. “It provides for a diver’s safety before they get into the water. We can check areas and we can search before we ever have to put a diver into the water.”
Francisco said equipment like the Kongsberg is important to the dive team because the sonar technology covers search areas faster and potential targets can be marked.
“The quality of the images received underwater allows us to search areas prior to putting a diver into the water into unknown conditions and putting human life at risk,” he said.
Currently, Michigan State Police has a Kongsberg which allowed Monroe’s dive team to see one in action.
“We wanted to get one directly assigned to us so that we would have it at our disposal at any time rather than having to call another team,” Francisco said. “There are now three available. Washtenaw County has one, State Police has one, and we have one.”
According to the Kongsberg website, the sonar can be used in high current, under ice and in real time directing a diver to a target. Metrics can be generated from sonar images and distances between targets and debris fields can be planned. The sonar data can be recorded and saved as a permanent document.
“It’s new to us, so we’re still learning its capabilities. We’re going to continue to train on it for the next several months to be able to utilize it to its full potential,” Francisco added. “This equipment is assigned to us, but should another department or municipality in our area request it, we’re obligated to another agency with the UASI group to provide the equipment and the personnel to operate it.”