An Underwater classroom

HOUGHTON – This week at Michigan Technological University, seven members of the Michigan State Police Underwater Recovery Unit are receiving training on advanced underwater sonar and search and recovery techniques. Staff at the Great Lakes Research Center is helping the team learn to operate the new equipment and the unit will in turn help with some dive projects.

“We have similar systems and we share training and use of them,” said Guy Meadows, Great Lakes Research Center director. “This week we’re training them and then they are helping us with some dive projects since we don’t have a dive team.”

Michigan Tech has a long history of working with the Michigan State Police, Meadows said, but this is the first time they have trained at the GLRC. The underwater recovery unit just received new equipment including side scan sonars, stationary sonars and a remotely operated vehicle. The equipment – totaling about $160,000 worth of electronics – was given to the team by the Chippewa County Sheriff’s Department through a federal grant.

“We have to keep up (dive) training, but we have to learn all the electronic stuff too,” said Officer Steve Derusha after a day of training. “You can’t just pull it out once a year and expect it to work.”

The Underwater Recovery Unit contains 20 Michigan State Police sergeants and troopers who are stationed throughout the state. They train monthly and hold a longer training session every quarter. Every month, Derusha said, the team is called up about four or five times statewide. Each call requires about six to 10 of the closest members of the unit to respond.

“When something disastrous happens, this team is called in to recover evidence or bodies and they rish their lives doing that,” Meadows said. “These remotely operated vehicles and sonar systems make it easier and safer to find those things.”

The team searches for bodies or evidence that may be in the water. In the winter, Derusha said, they have to do ice dives into frozen or partially frozen bodies of water. Even on Wednesday the team was taking dives into water that was just 34 degrees. The seven Underwater Recovery Unit members split into two groups during their training Wednesday, with one team training on sonar equipment while the other did dive training.

“Everyone needs to get proficient in everything,” Derusha said. “That’s my goal for the end of the week.”

The new systems, Meadows said, should help the team locate underwater items more quickly and, hopefully, more safely. The remotely operated vehicle and side scanners are able to cover a very large area, but even with the new technology discovery and recovery can be difficult.

“The sonars cover a football field at a time but there’s a lot of football fields in the Great Lakes,” Meadows said. “It’s really a needle in a haystack situation.”