Thursday, January 14, 2010

High Tech Heads to Haiti

By Colin Clark Thursday, January 14th, 2010 5:10 pm
Posted in Air, International, Land, Naval, Policy
UPDATED: NGA Provides SouthCom Classified Geo Imagery For Haiti Planning

One immense irony of the terrible destruction the earthquake wreaked in Haiti is that the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country is getting much of the world’s most sophisticated and expensive technology in its time of need.

Global Hawk, the high-​​flying reconnaissance UAV which costs roughly $135 million apiece, left Beale Air Force Base on Jan. 13 for Haiti. A story on the base’s web site quoted Lt. Col. Mark Lozier, operations officer with the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron:“In effect, you get to look at what we know is damaged, and what we know is still serviceable. We can take a look at airfields to assess, right now, whether or not we will be able to get airlift in there with aid. We don’t have to wait for a ground team to get in there and make on site decisions.”

As the U.S military first really learned during the earliest stages of our Afghan war, persistent surveillance can be incredibly useful. “One of the ideal aspects of the Global Hawk for this purpose is it’s high-​​altitude; we can stay airborne 27 to 28 hours,” Lozier said. “We will be using most of that time to stay on station over in Haiti during most of daylight hours to image most of everything that we can with the highest fidelity.”

We got an email from a geospatial data company, Fortius One, telling us about how they are providing mapping and other geospatial planning tools to non-​​governmental groups.You can take a look here at some of the nifty products they and other companies are making available to help get help where it is needed most.

Ruth Stiver, who handles PR for them, said this: “We are actively working with other communities such as OpenStreetMap and CrisisCommons, which are gathering additional data and maps that can be used to share with responders and agencies working to organize and provide relief efforts. To check out our latest collaborative efforts to help visit: http://​news​.geocommons​.com/​h​a​i​t​i​q​u​ake.

“Feel free to contribute your own data as well at Geocommons and make sure to tag your data “haitiquake.” If you know of additional relief organizations, please add them to the registry http://​haiti​-orgs​.sahanafoundation​.org/​o​r​gs/.”

Obviously, the USS Carl Vinson and the Marine units heading to Haiti involve incredibly advanced technology as well. As part of that effort, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency “is providing support to SouthCom and their requests for GeoInt products. At this time we do not have commerical products available for public release,” spokeswoman Karen Finn said Thursday night. Finn said the agency hoped to have some products based on commercial software up soon

I’m sure our readers know of other examples. Please let us know and we’ll update this story or add new ones. I covered the terrible famines of 1984–85 in Ethiopia and Sudan, as well as the accompanying epidemics that rolled through the region on the heels of famine and civil war. The best technology available then was C-​​130s and similar military airlifters, military radios, printed maps containing weather and related data from satellites, and kerosene-​​powered refrigerators deployed in geographic chains to keep vaccines fresh. Let’s hope today’s more advanced tools will help save lives and, perhaps, help Haiti to plan better for future disasters.