What do data standards, cellphone cameras, and Twitter have to do with saving lives during a large-scale catastrophe? They can make all the difference. These were among a few of the topics discussed at the Research & Experimentation for Local & International Emergency First-Responders (RELIEF) event at National Defense University last week, which I had the pleasure of attending.
RELIEF, a program jointly run by the Naval Postgraduate School and the Center for Technology & National Security Policy, brings together representatives from dozens of organizations and government agencies to collaborate on cutting-edge research. Prior RELIEF events have come away with such outcomes as a method to capture and disseminate text messages over a broad area, tools to convert military satellite imagery into formats useable by civilian software, and a strategy for open-source mapping that went on to be used during elections in Afghanistan.
This quarter’s event focused on the growing trend of crisismapping – the technical merging of interactive online maps with social media and mobile technology, to create a living “picture” of a crisis zone – and the difficulties involved in its implementation. The participants included representatives from myriad government entities, including Department of State, Department of Defense (DoD), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), humanitarian mapping groups, industry, think tanks, and academia, which brought their diverse viewpoints to the table. As expected, the event covered a lot of ground in each session, but there were a number of key takeaway points that I will try to highlight.
Civil Air Patrol
Civil Air Patrol (CAP), a volunteer auxiliary arm of the US Air Force comprised of civilian pilots, has long been used in emergency management to identify survivors and take aerial reconnaissance photos for crisis command. Event participants discussed CAP’s ability to contribute to crisismapping by being able to provide photos of affected areas that land crews cannot access, ultimately giving crisis command a clearer picture of the situation and information about where to deploy emergency response teams. The discussion was coupled with a scenario analysis of a simultaneous earthquake, fire, and chemical gas release in an urban area—a realistic situation that demonstrates both immediate and developing hazards, each with unique conditions to worry about—as a test case for CAP’s utility. Read the rest of this entry »