Civil Air Patrol Notches 1,000th Cell Phone Forensics Rescue


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You have your cell phone, it’s fully charged, but you are lost in the woods – how will rescuers find you? If it’s the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), cell phone forensics can provide the key to locating lost hikers. Granite Geek notes that the Civil Air Patrol reports 1,000 successful recovery efforts since the procedure was initiated. 

Tracing the source of a cell phone call is a more complicated process than simply logging a nearby tower ping. A landscape with obstacles such as tall trees may lead a phone to seek an easier line of sight signal from a tower that is actually further away. Unique maps devised by the Civil Air Patrol’s Cellular Forensics Team provide details not available on traditional maps. 

The additional details include features that relate to each individual cell tower that distinguish its location from other cell towers. Within each tower’s coverage area, the CAP charts how far away the phone was from the tower. It also provides azimuth and beam-width information about the tower’s three antennas. It even notes which direction the antenna faces, and accounts for the accuracy of information logged by the telecoms who occupy the tower. 

Operating under the aegis of the U.S. Air Force, CAP conducts over 90 percent of the cases that filter through the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC). AFRCC credits CAP with 155 lives saved in 2018, a record year. Of that 155, 147 were credited to the work done by the CAP cell phone team.  

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