Saturday, December 29, 2012

Guest post: Lessons from Hurricane Sandy

The following is a guest post from Philip J. Reed on behalf of Exede, a provider of satellite internet.

Lessons From Hurricane Sandy:
How Technology Can Assist With
Disaster Preparedness

While the recent effects of Hurricane Sandy are still fresh in the minds of East Coast residents, homeowners along the Gulf Coast haven’t forgotten the 2005 mayhem caused by Hurricane Katrina. Similarly, Chicagoans and other northerners can easily recall the 2011 Groundhog Day Blizzard, and the inhabitants of San Francisco and the West Coast think of the tsunami dangers posed that same year. The possibility of some sort of natural disaster continuously looms over residents throughout the United States.

The good news in the midst of all these disasters is that the majority of them are predicted at least 24 hours in advance, giving local residents the opportunity to prepare and protect themselves. Proper training and pre-crisis actions can mitigate the damage that these natural disasters wreak on the ill-prepared. In this technological age, advances in satellite connections and state-of-the-art computer applications can greatly reduce the loss and damage to possessions in addition to potentially saving lives.

Satellite Internet
Companies such as ViaSat Inc. are able to provide internet to the government, the military, and everyday consumers through their mobile networks based on the world’s highest capacity satellite. When a natural disaster strikes, it could very likely disturb the local telephone lines and cellular towers, preventing residents in crisis from reaching emergency crews to request help. ViaSat Inc., and other companies like it, keeps communication paths open through satellite connections that cannot be destroyed or interrupted due to downed or broken lines.

This service is instrumental in requesting immediate assistance in any type of emergency and can be credited with saving lives during natural disasters. The American Red Cross Disaster Services announced on November 13, 2012, that the group will be using ViaSat Inc. services for its official warnings and rescue efforts. By taking advantage of this group’s satellite internet service, the American Red Cross can operate more efficiently to target specific areas for emergency assistance while remaining continuously available.

Community Disaster Information System
One of the top methods of relaying information to communities facing an impending crisis or those recently affected by a natural disaster is online communication. After the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, many communities in the southern states began to create a local resource database for disaster relief. These local databases, commonly called Community Disaster Information Systems (CDIS), may include information about emergency food and shelter locations, about modes of transportation, and about local equipment companies that could help in the event of property damage.

These CDIS groups may assist the local chapters of the American Red Cross and other government agencies in charge of community outreach. Prior to the CDIS, most local records were kept more informally in file folders and in copies of the Yellow Pages, making them nearly impossible to distribute or use effectively, especially in the case of an unexpected crisis. The disorganized systems of the past would result in long delays for victims needing assistance and in a reduction of the services necessary for survival.

Now records are kept and organized by the local community and available to any authorized users. The meticulous CDIS records electronically store names, addresses, digital maps, phone numbers, and general services all geared for immediate accessibility and retrieval in the event of an emergency. When used in combination with satellite internet options, this system of information storage is one of the best options for the Red Cross and other disaster relief efforts. For this reason, many communities beyond those that suffer from hurricanes are creating their own databases.

Video Game Technology
Following Hurricanes Gustav and Katrina, software programs based on video games allowed emergency workers and Good Samaritans to rescue stranded people and pets across a wide radius of ravaged land. Volunteer engineers used Google Earth, MapPoint, and other similarly useful mapping software to locate floating victims and open evacuation routes. These simulators can be vital for both preventative measures and rescue missions.

A program called Depiction is marketed specifically as disaster-modeling software that can create rescue plans based on real-time images integrated from Google Earth or other satellite maps. Depiction is a useful tool to plan escape routes prior to an oncoming crisis. The maps it creates can then be sent in e-mails to emergency workers and news outlets for broadcast of the safest paths around potential pitfalls. Additionally, the program updates in real time, allowing rescue crews to locate downed power lines and blocked roadways without becoming trapped themselves.

The People Locator and Patient Tracking Systems
New technologies are also being utilized to assist hospitals and live-in care facilities as they evacuate and track patients who may be unable to care for themselves during a natural disaster. Under the guidance of the National Library of Medicine, the People Locator is being researched and created as an online “lost and found” that can house personal information as part of the Lost Person Finder. In the event of a natural disaster or other crisis, concerned family members can search for a person’s name, age and health condition to more quickly locate an evacuated patient.

Similarly, the Patient Tracking and Locating System, run by the National Library of Medicine’s Office of Computer and Communications Systems, will transfer patient records in an electronic online format between patient care facilities in the event of an evacuation or displacement. The group hopes that this system will be the prototype for many of the hospitals and clinics across the country to handle in-patient care and crisis management in a user-friendly and quickly accessible format for both the medical facility and families.

1 comment:

  1. As much as I appreciate the good intentions, electronic medical records (particularly the highly transferable kind) just do not sit well with me. With all of the hacking and information theft that goes on at every level, to say nothing of the government's willingness to share information between agencies, it seems extremely dangerous to have such intimate and critical information readily available beyond one's control.

    I've also had at least two family members run into issues at local hospitals, getting the wrong medical bills because there was someone else living in the same city with the same name. Until procedures and policy catch up with the technology, we all need to be attentive and not take for granted that such well-intentioned systems will always work to our benefit.