By DONNA SANTI / guest columnist
- Donna Santi is a creative writer for LandAirSea Systems, a Woodstock, IL-based manufacturer and distributor of expertly-engineered GPS tracking systems, software and accessories. For information about LandAirSea, visit www.landairsea.com. To contact the writer, email firstname.lastname@example.org
As the tolls of dead and injured from the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti keep rising, aid workers are organizing in the impoverished Caribbean nation for the grim task of recovering bodies from the rubble.
GPS & Haiti Earthquake
A representative from the American Red Cross who arrived at Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti near the epicenter, said the disaster was worse than he had imagined. Those who perished could number in the hundreds of thousands. There is inadequate hospital space for all the injured. Thousands of homes are flattened, many of them dangerous, rickety shacks.
Officials are appealing for medical care, trained rescue teams and everyday items used for comfort and well-being like diapers, water, clothing, shoes and blankets.
The world’s first glimpses into the 7.0 magnitude devastation were in videos Haitians posted on Twitter and YouTube. Celebrities urged their Twitter fans to text donations from their mobile devices and $1 million was pledged to one nonprofit in just one day. It proves that technology is firmly entrenched in our lives. The worldwide grasp even extends to a small, underdeveloped country like Haiti.
So it is almost certain that GPS tracking systems will be among the tools in the cleanup. How will GPS tracking devices be used to put the toppled Caribbean nation back on its feet?
It is unlikely any GPS tracking devices are transmitting their location coordinates from under feet of concrete, metal and wood, serving as beacons to people in need of aid. Haiti is an impoverished nation. Natives of Haiti average about $2 a day in wages. The average citizen would not own a cell phone, let alone an independent GPS tracking device.
But GPS tracking is also a great tool for law enforcement and search and rescue teams during natural disasters because it can pinpoint locations of receivers within a couple of feet of accuracy. Those watching the recovery efforts probably will see or hear about GPS technology being used for its locating and mapping qualities. GPS tracking has become an important part of all kinds of emergency response missions, from directing emergency vehicles to finding bodies.
In the days immediately following a natural disaster of this magnitude, confusion usually ensues. Massive groups of volunteers might lack leadership. The same buildings might be searched over and over while others remain untouched. Bodies could be counted twice or more. Then there is the language barrier (most Haitians speak Creole).
How GPS Might Help in Haiti:
- Vehicle tracking devices could be installed in all emergency response and volunteer mobile units for an emergency fleet management program. Rescue coordinators could easily identify and monitor all their vehicles at the same time on a digital map. The application could be accessed by others in the field via laptop computers.
- GPS tracking and locating services can be used to map out the area of destruction and then divide it into a geographic grid so rescue efforts are maximized rather than duplicated.
- Rescuers can be issued GPS-enabled handhelds. The volunteers could note and geotag search areas that must later be revisited. Rubble is rubble, unless each pile is distinguished by its own, unique GPS location coordinates. Helpers in the field could note the location of landmarks, human fatalities, physical hazards, etc. and they will be known to all by their latitude and longitude indexes. In 2001 during 9/11, GPS tracking was just coming into common use, yet it was invaluable for the Herculean task of identifying body parts and personal belongings in New York.
- Special equipment and software could be created to integrate GPS with other technologies such infrared, night vision or heat-detecting cameras (or remote-controlled robots!) to infiltrate or get into the rubble where an average size human could not without considerable digging and effort.
- Disaster relief sites such as first aid, water, emergency shelter and public address stations could be identified by GPS tracking and locating services and people could be accurately and quickly guided to those areas, regardless of their point of origin.
- Rescuers trapped under a fresh structural collapse are more likely to be found if they are carrying GPS-equipped mobile devices.
As impersonal as technology might seem to some people, it could also be said that it has a unifying quality. It works on an international scale and makes the physical distances between us seem to disappear. Only in this modern age, with the Internet, text messaging, Twitter, YouTube, wireless cellular communications and Global Positioning System satellites, could disaster strike in a remote area of the world, and then help arrive within hours of that tragedy.