MIT Lincoln Laboratory Technology Confronts Disasters

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December 5, 2016 | Originally published by Date Line: December 5 on

In 2010, soon after Haiti was devastated by an earthquake, a team from MIT Lincoln Laboratory collected and analyzed information to help the U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM), the lead military agency responding to the crisis, effectively dispatch vital resources, including food, water, tents, and medical supplies, to the victims of this disaster. The laboratory”s capabilities in advanced imaging also aided relief operations: A laser-radar imaging system, the Airborne Ladar Imaging Research Testbed (ALIRT), produced high-resolution, three-dimensional renderings of terrain and infrastructure that were used to generate maps indicating road trafficability, helicopter landing zones, and the changes in populations at camps for displaced persons.

This Haiti experience demonstrated to Lincoln Laboratory researchers that advanced technology and technical expertise developed for the Department of Defense (DoD) can significantly benefit future humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts. And in February, the Laboratory established the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) Systems Group to explore ways to leverage or advance existing capabilities for improving disaster responses.

“With this new group, we are planning to apply technology developed in many areas, including the DoD, to support global needs for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. We have put together a strong team to develop new systems for this very important need,” says Eric Evans, MIT Lincoln Laboratory director.

Recent news coverage of natural disasters has exposed the difficulties and critical importance of effective response operations. Immediate actions in the aftermath of a catastrophic event are crucial to helping people survive, but preparedness for a conceivable disaster helps make a community resilient to the crisis. The HADR Systems Group is seeking to research and develop technology that can help agencies through all stages of disaster management — preparedness, response, and recovery.