Disaster Preparedness

E-mail Melanie Martella

I was minding my own business on Tuesday afternoon when my desk started to shimmy. Because I was online at the time and couldn't blame the furniture moving on the pets, I thought to visit the USGS site to see if there had been an earthquake and yes, to my surprise, there had been: a 5.8 magnitude quake waaaay down in Virginia. I am a geek so I was a. thrilled that it was so easy to check and b. a bit boggled that I'd felt it up here in the woods of New Hampshire. And then I thought about disaster preparedness, as one does at these times.

It's been an interesting month, technology-wise, for those individuals tasked with responding to disasters. After many years in development, the Department of Homeland Security's Science & Technology Directorate has announced that a firefighter location-tracking technology is ready for market. The technology combines geospatial location tracking, health monitoring, and low-power wireless communications and each portion has a nifty acronym. Part one is the geospatial location accountability and navigation system for emergency responders (GLANSER) which provides each firefighter with a radio, battery, and navigation sensor package by which their location is tracked and relayed out to a laptop in the firetruck. Part two, the physiological health assessment system for emergency responders (PHASER), monitors how the firefighter is doing by tracking temperature, blood pressure, and pulse. Finally, part three is the wireless intelligent sensor platform for emergency responders (WISPER), which is a small, waterproof throwaway router that's heat resistant to 500°F. It also includes a digital radio and antenna. Working together, the three components allow the folks managing the incident to track who is where and how they're doing. I can't tell you how thrilled I am to hear that these technologies, so long in development, and so very needed, are finally ready for prime time.

The second interesting disaster-preparedness technology involves a software toolkit developed by Sandia, which provides a framework with which people responding to disasters and people practicing how to respond to those disasters can link lots and lots of different types of data together into something useful. It's called the standard unified modeling, mapping, and integration toolkit (SUMMIT). Imagining how to organize the response should a massive earthquake reduce your local downtown to rubble? SUMMIT can help you visualize what that would look like, share that visualization with other participants, and help you figure out how well your response worked. We are visual creatures; providing realistic images of what to expect is a helpful tool to those trying to figure out how best to respond.