New hand-held device helps Red Cross quickly gather, send data in emergencies

This article originally appeared in Fosters Daily Record

Photo caption: American Red Cross disaster response volunteer David Crockett (right) who works with the Greater Carolinas Chapter in Charlotte, N.C., and an unidentified man were among those in Portsmouth practicing entering information into a portable electronic device. The devices and software offered by Portsmouth-based Global Relief Technologies are making disaster response quicker and more efficient.

By GEOFF CUNNINGHAM Jr.

PORTSMOUTH — While the most crucial asset of the American Red Cross is still its volunteers, officials say a new hand-held device used during disasters is improving the efficiency by which field responders get information to decision makers. image

On Monday a group of Red Cross disaster team leaders from all over the country gathered at Global Relief Technologies (GRT) in Pease International Tradeport to continue training on portable “Rapid Data Management System” units that are being used to track damage following emergencies such as hurricanes and floods.

Portsmouth-based GRT offers the units and software that is allowing the Red Cross and other agencies to be able to send information to a Internet-based information gathering system with the simple touch of a button.

The GPS-enabled hand-held units can take pictures of damaged buildings, be used to create spreadsheets and can even scan bar codes in the event rescued individuals are given identification bracelets.

The units are run largely on cellular technology, but have the capability to use satellite transmissions in the event a disaster knocks out cellular towers in a given region.

GRT Vice President of Emergency Management Adam Cote said the units are used by responders to collect data, which can be instantly posted to a secure website.

Cote said the units provide a quicker way for responders to gather information and get it back to those responsible for deciding where to send critical resources and manpower.

“It’s about getting information from those with boots on the ground to decision-makers. When you get through all the bells and whistles that’s really what we do,” Cote said.

American Red Cross Preparedness and Response Lead Program Manager Greg Tune was among those who traveled to Portsmouth on Monday for continued classes and field exercises aimed at helping them learn how to use the electronic units.

Tune said a handful of Red Cross team leaders spending time at GRT will pass information onto other volunteers so they know how to use them when disaster strikes.

He said the Red Cross has been working with GRT for two years and their 40 hand-held units have already been used to collect 70,000 assessments during disaster responses across the country.

Last year the Red Cross used GRT’s “Rapid Data Management System” in its response to hurricanes Ike, Gustav and Dolly.

Tune said the devices replace a more time-consuming process of collecting data through a paper/clipboard process that requires a lot of data entry and counting.

“It’s always been a manual paper-based system and we’ve been looking for technology for a number of years, but there just wasn’t a single solution,” Tune said.

He said the GRT model is a simple and more immediate solution to his unit’s job, which he described as painting a picture of a disaster for those calling the shots.

Tune said the Red Cross had been looking into an electronic way to collect information since the 1980s, but never found a company offering a do-it-all device and the technical assistance to help link it to their data collection methods.

Upon getting them, Red Cross disaster responders realized how they could help streamline assessment of damage in a given area.

On Monday teams leaders from across the nation attended classes and spent some time outside using the hand-held devices.

GRT provides support to the Red Cross and trains them on how to change their Internet-based collection system so it is tailored to their specific needs. Their Portsmouth-based emergency office also can be used to monitor the system and trouble-shoot during disasters.

Cote said GRT is made up of a number of former military leaders and humanitarian relief workers so he assured many know the type of technology needed on the ground to keep operations moving.

Cote said the business has yet to secure a contract with Federal Emergency Management Agency for use of its devices, but has had conversations with that agency.

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