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By GCN Staff

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Smart phones help with Sandy relief

Volunteer vets enlist battlefield tech to aid storm relief

If the old adage is true that it’s an ill wind that blows no good, then Superstorm Sandy may have earned its role as a force for good, thanks to the members of Team Rubicon.

The all-volunteer disaster-relief organization, staffed by more than 6,000 military veterans and former first responders, is using battlefield-tested software to direct its army of aid workers along storm-ravaged New York’s Rockaways as they patrol the devastated beach area assessing the damage, providing assistance or calling for supplies, according to Businessweek.com.

The Palantir Technologies software runs on the laptops in the mobile headquarters bus and on smart phones in the field, informing dispatchers of the location of the volunteers and updating information on damaged properties. Simultaneously, the volunteers can call up notes, add their own data and upload geo-tagged photos for address information and visual confirmation, similar to a coordinated battlefield operation.

Company officials say Palantir’s software is applicable in such situations because it is designed to deal with large, disparate data sets. So when relief workers want to determine where to send aid, it’s helpful to be able to combine several layers of information: the status of neighborhood pharmacies and gas stations, demographic and census data, and poverty rates.

“When other relief groups have arrived, government agencies have been sending them to us, based on our effectiveness,” Ford Sypher, a Team Rubicon regional director and former Army Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan, told Businessweek.

This is not the first time an application designed for the battlefield has proved its worth in a civilian setting. In September, a U.S. military exercise in Croatia created an imaginary 11-nation coalition of forces to counter a criminal organization’s infiltration of a fictitious country.

For that exercise, the White Canvas Group, of Alexandria, Va., developed a secure customized version of its GridMeNow application. The smart phone-based app allowed operators to share and use location-based reports and to relay real-time operations data to the people who needed it.

The commercial version of GridMeNow is designed to let people affected by a disaster more accurately notify first responders. A couple clicks and the emergency personnel have an alert, a geographical location and even pictures and video as needed.

Posted by David Hubler on Dec 03, 2012 at 9:39 AM


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