Back to our roots: Saving lives using location-based services

Chief Location Officer News: Location-based services started out in emergency response, and it’s continuing to play a vital role there. LBS has compelling uses in disaster recovery, from planning to coordinating the efforts of aid personnel on the ground to search and rescue. CLO Recommendation: It’s not just about fun and games. Real world LBS apps have a serious side too. I talk a lot here about cool and fun apps that use location-based technology, but today I’d like to turn to something much more serious—using location-based apps to save lives. In his timely article “Location Based Services for Homeland Security,” Harry Niedzwiadek discusses how LBS is being used and can be used in disaster situations.

First off, location-based services aid in advanced planning so you’re ready before the disaster happens. I live in the San Francisco Bay area and while I don’t know when an earthquake will strike here, I know it can happen in one minute or in one century (keeps me on my toes). Disaster response agencies can use location information to map out likely areas of concern, map traffic patterns and building usage to know where most of the population is at any given time, and how they get there and go home. This information is used in modeling disasters and responses to them, including drills. It lets agencies work out the kinks before bad things happen.

Communication is key during a disaster, and mobile has a role to play. Cell phones offer another way to communicate. Redundant methods of communication are key as land based methods of receiving information (traditional phones, televisions, etc.) might be affected by the disaster. The more ways you can find out what’s going on, the better. Here’s an example of how the public alert system works:

Location information can help officials to get out the word about impending disasters that require evacuation (such as hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes, and floods). In some areas, citizens can sign up in advance to receive alerts on their cell phones. Using network location, it is also possible to find all the given cell phones within a certain area and send them warnings, and to know where they are should they need to be evacuated.

Once disaster strikes, location based services can help both the people on the ground in the area and those who come to offer them help. Having cell phone communication with first responders lets you have both centralized command and control and localized reactions. You can find your personnel at any time, and they can find each other. They have access to maps of disaster areas, plus driving directions to specific sites. Some jurisdictions are already doing this. There’s a system in use as Mobile Kiosk in Shelby County, Tennessee, and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is also getting a system in place.

Here’s what it might look like:

Location-based services started in emergency response, and it’s heartening to hear of people in Japan who used their phones to find basic services like water, food, or evacuation centers. Disasters are not something I like to think about, but I’m grateful to see people using the systems that we put in place here at LOC-AID to save lives.

Full article here: