On Tuesday, January 12, 2010, the already impoverished Caribbean Country of Haiti was shocked and devastated by a catastrophic magnitude 7.0M earthquake, negatively affecting an estimated three million people by death, injury or homelessness. The United States Navy was one of many other organizations around the world to answer the profound cry for help. As with any significant natural disaster response effort, up-to-date and timely intelligence on the ground and from the air was needed to understand the who, what, when, where and why of the situation for supporting informed decisions and effective resource allocation.
U.S. Naval Forces SOUTHCOM, in collaboration with other forces, was tasked with delivering support and supplies to help stabilize one of the most devastated regions in Haiti—Port-au-Prince, the Nation’s Capitol. The mission was to identify where aid was needed most and get food, water, medical support, shelter and other assets on the ground as quickly as possible to stabilize the local Haitian population. This would allow International Aid to confidently and successfully take over the post-earthquake support efforts.
SOUTHCOM needed timely and accurate geographic and situational intelligence to help them identify what was needed where. Important elements of that intelligence included ground and aerial photographs. From the start, SOUTHCOM had access to over six thousand photographs taken from various locations around the Country but didn’t know exactly when or where the photographs were taken. They needed a fast and easy way to capture and geo-locate images to effectively coordinate their disaster relief efforts.
SOUTHCOM used a combination of cameras and software to collect, geo-locate and share ground and aerial images. Geo Tactical Solutions (GTS) provided enhanced GPS-enabled Ricoh 500SE-M tactical cameras for collecting geotagged images along with FoxView Google Earth software for exporting images to KML and mapping them in Google Earth. Google’s Picasa web application was also used as a quick and easy solution for hosting, mapping and sharing the photographs within SOUTHCOM and other supporting organizations.
With the geotagging and ‘memo’ capabilities of the 500SE-M GPS cameras, images captured on the ground were easily mapped in Google Earth and Picasa to collaborate with other Navy and emergency response personnel on where the most troubled areas were, when the images were taken, and what activities were occurring in those areas. For acquiring geo-referenced aerial images, SOUTHCOM used the 500SE-M camera from Navy UH-60 helicopters. By the end of SOUTHCOM’s presence in Haiti, a large collection of useful geo-referenced images were collected that were passed on to International Aid organizations, helping them to more effectively target their limited resources in support of the distraught Haitian population.