U.S. SOUTHCOM expo displays technology that can save lives during natural disasters

U.S. SOUTHCOM expo displays technology that can save lives during natural disasters

By Dialogo
September 10, 2014

Technological innovations that could help provide humanitarian relief throughout the Western Hemisphere in response to natural disasters and other emergencies took center stage at an expo recently hosted by the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM).
SOUTHCOM's Science, Technology and Experimentation Division hosted the event Sept. 3. It featured demonstrations of lifesaving technologies for enhancing the response to disaster relief operations and humanitarian assistance crises.
The expo, which took place at SOUTHCOM's Doral, Florida headquarters, also showcased a variety of cost-effective devices and software that can facilitate a more efficient response to disasters, both natural and man-made
A wide range of organizations displayed technology at the expo. Among the groups which participated were the Permanent Contingency Commission (COPECO) in Honduras; the Dominican Republic’s National Emergency Commission and Civil Defense; and several U.S. organizations, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); Florida International University, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA); and the Department of Defense.
SOUTHCOM’s Command Science and Technology Advisor, Juan A. Hurtado said the goal is to merge situational awareness and information sharing with today’s technology.
“My job is to try and solve problems through technology,” Hurtado said. “Events like this really help bring collective minds together to help meet this goal and provide effective humanitarian assistance throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.”
Some of the technologies included the InstantEye Mk2 Unmanned Aerial System; the All Partners Access Network (APAN); the Content-Oriented Mobile Edge Technology (COMET); a 2.4 meter Inflatable Satellite Terminal (GATR); a Deployable Water Purification System; and the Western Hemisphere Information Exchange Program.
Many of the technologies on display at the expo could help authorities provide assistance to civilians who are at-risk from natural disasters, said U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Scott B. Jerabek, director of SOUTHCOM's Theater Engagement Directorate.
“Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are vulnerable to a variety of natural hazards,” Admiral Jerabek said. “Disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, forest fires, landslides and volcanoes are a major threat to these regions, especially when the resources for disaster relief are limited. It is estimated that 42 percent of Central America, which pans out to over 40 million people, live below the poverty line.”

The importance of sharing information

Jerabek is responsible for the overall planning, programming, and synchronization of United States military engagement activities and programs throughout Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.
The admiral delivered opening remarks to kick off the expo. He emphasized the importance of sharing information.
In particular, Jerabek cited a website, www.apan.org, that has been a valuable online resource for disaster relief since the 2010 Haiti earthquake. The website is an important resource for communities and agencies which do not have access to U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) online networks. The website allows these communities and agencies to share unclassified information with each other, with DOD, and with the DOD’s partner nations.
The website has a variety of tools, including maps, and provides the opportunity for social engagement.
“One of the things we learned from previous experiences is that information sharing is not a technology, but rather a behavior,” said Ricky Arias, operations program manager for SOUTHCOM”s Science, Technology, and Experimentation Division. “It’s not about the platform, it’s about the data. We want the data to freely flow from one platform to another. If organizations such as the United Nations or the Red Cross can ingest our data, APAN could be a key component in ensuring effective disaster relief.”

The InstantEye

One piece of technology captured attention of many of those who attended the expo by hovering over their heads.
Once referred to as the 'lightest aircraft ever,' InstantEye is the first unmanned aerial system to receive federal aviation certification. The all-weather resistant, battery-operated craft was designed to provide situational awareness to troops on the ground, weighs less than one pound, and can take flight in under 30 seconds. It can also climb as high as 12,000 feet, and remain airborne for as long as 30 minutes.
“The device was created by the Department of Defense’s Emerging Capabilities and Prototyping Offices and serves as a first-response feature,” said Ricky Stuart, Technical Project Officer from the United States Southern Command's Science, Technology and Experimentation Division. “When soldiers respond to hazardous situations, it can be dangerous. They can use this device to scout out locations, at a distance, and discern what the circumstances are.”

Aiding Latin America and the Caribbean

The event concluded with one more demonstration from GATR and closing remarks from Hurtado.
A common theme throughout the event was the idea that countries that need additional resources for effective disaster relief capabilities require immediate attention. The devices demonstrated at the event all share one common purpose: to aid countries struck by natural disasters.
Following his closing remarks, Hurtado shared his passion for creating such programs.
“I was born and raised in Ecuador, a very poor country,” he said. “After spending 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, this is why I became a scientist and chose to partner with these organizations in order to build the proper technological tools to bring relief no only to our people in the U.S. but also in our partner nations.”
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