Technology Aids Disaster Relief

By Dialogo
July 01, 2011

All these scenarios reflect the importance of rapid and effective communications among the many international military and aid groups that respond when a natural disaster occurs. In the wake of a major disaster, the importance of government-to-government communications and civilian-military interactions are crucial to maximizing the disaster relief response. The technology and the hardware to enable communications have been essential in disaster relief.

JANUARY 12, 2010:

“People trapped in building by school next to fountain.” This was the message written in creole that international relief workers received but could not understand in the aftermath of the quake that struck haiti. Aid workers used technology tools such as Skype and text messaging to reach creole speakers who could translate the message. A local network was used to convert the address into GPS coordinates that search and rescue teams used to find survivors.

FEBRUARY 23, 2011:
New Zealand

An Australian woman was convinced she would die in the darkness, trapped under her desk in the building where she worked after a magnitude 6.3 quake struck the city of christchurch, new Zealand. She was trapped for 24 hours; she called her children to say goodbye. Through the night, she spoke to numerous media outlets by mobile phone detailing the harrowing experience of being buried alive. rescuers were able to find her and lift her out to an ambulance.

MAY 11, 2011:
Japan, two months after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis

“Today, I only went through Fukushima area by Shinkansen, but I could see the measurement changing very clearly. As I was close to Fukushima, the level was getting high. The peak was around Fukushima-shi. After that, the level was decreasing,” blogged Kiki tanaka in her volunteer field report, as she measured radiation levels around the Fukushima area and shared the news with nearby residents.

Social Media

• WHAT IT IS: A variety of highly accessible, Web-based and mobile technologies like twitter, Facebook, blogging or SMS texts.
• WHAT IT DOES: Various social media and mobile networks enable crowdsourcing (receiving information directly from the field).
• WHO USES IT: haitian survivors used text messages to ask for assistance. The U.S. coast Guard, State Department, Pentagon and aid groups along with haiti’s leading cell phone carrier formed an emergency contact network to receive and review the text messages requesting aid. This network also monitored Facebook and twitter postings for information on supply shortages. information was then transmitted to the U.S. Southern command to coordinate with military counterparts in haiti. The All Partners Access network (APAn), a U.S. Department of Defense social-networking site, connected people and information across organizational and geographic boundaries in the Haiti disaster.
• BENEFITS: Getting rapid information directly from the survivors and converting it into actionable intelligence. crowdsourced information cut the response time by providing information faster than traditional channels. “haiti was the first time that crowdsourced information was used to an extensive degree in disaster relief,” linton Wells, director of the center for technology and national Security Policy at the U.S. national Defense University, told Diálogo.

Person Finder

• WHAT IT IS: online registry created by Google.
• WHAT IT DOES: Provides a means to search, report or confirm information on the whereabouts of people. Further, Google set up a way for people to upload photos of printed lists of the evacuated, missing or dead. This registry uses crowdsourcing as a means to gather information.
• WHO USES IT: The registry generated 55,000 records in haiti and more than 620,000* records in Japan during the recent disasters. Serving as the bridge to categorize this information, Google relied on 5,000 volunteers to review and vet the 10,000 photos of such lists. Despite issues with the accuracy of numbers, this online registry filled with crowd-produced information proved successful in locating survivors.
• BENEFITS: cuts the response time by providing information faster than the traditional channels and it empowered citizens to assist with relief operations. “People working on similar problems, sharing information, often times getting to better solutions,” said craig Fugate, administrator of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, during a U.S. Senate committee on homeland Security & Governmental Affairs session on disaster recovery.


• WHAT IT IS: Website that collects radioactivity data from individuals, official government ministries and nonprofit organizations.
• WHAT IT DOES: Provides a platform to aggregate the information collected from various sources. The information reports current radiation levels in various parts of Japan, supporting government and military efforts.
• WHO USES IT: Keio University volunteers, as well as civilians, official government ministries and nonprofit organizations have continuously reported radiation levels to the site.
• BENEFITS: Established a data network to assist rescue teams, nonprofits and scientists.

Inflatable Satellite Antenna System

• WHAT IT IS: An inflatable satellite antenna system from the GAtr technologies company that, when inflated, produces a large-aperture dish, resulting in a precision satellite antenna for remote communications.
• WHAT IT DOES: Provides emergency internet access, cell coverage and phone lines over satellite networks. Deploys in less than an hour, performs like a rigid antenna of the same size, but with 10 to 15 percent of the packaged size of a conventional rigid antenna system. The system can operate on low power provided by solar power, Dc battery or Ac power.
• WHO USES IT: Used to support search and rescue missions in haiti. A similar type of antenna was constructed by the haiti relief communications response team of 1st Special operations communications Squadron personnel who established communications in less than nine minutes, and in four hours, created a global link for the Joint Special operations Air component-haiti.
• BENEFITS: Provides faster on-the-ground communications support for disaster relief efforts and military operations. Satellite communications are needed because many times radio communications do not work in disaster settings.

*the figures for Japan are estimated due to duplicate entries, name variants, lack of updates and other user error issues.

This article is excellent. I think that the authorities in charge of communications should together with radio amateurs implement frequencies (alternative) according to areas where an event takes place, and a spokesman or agency could receive information and broadcast it, to avoid that every amateur radio report on their own and leave space for interpretations that could seriously affect the results of an operation. You can count on my humble station. Carlos LU2QBI. Argentinian radio amateur