RFID+Geospatial Relief for Haiti

I recommend FRONTLINE’s Quake documentary which aired last night. They examined a lot of the issues surrounding distribution of supplies following the earthquake in Haiti.

They showed supplies piling up at the airport, without any system in place to distribute it. They showed a doctor rushing all over town searching for blood, only to find it was available at a nearby clinic. They showed supply trucks being looted by mobs.

It seems like RFID could be leveraged to resolve this situation. Sure enough, after a bit of searching, I see this UN worker quoted in RFID Journal Blog:

The problem we have is that when a natural disaster strikes, you usually have no electrical power and little cell phone coverage in the affected area. Relief supplies come pouring in from around the world, but when you are on the ground, you don’t know what is arriving and you can’t call anyone. I’ve seen millions of dollars worth of life-saving drugs spoil on the tarmac of an airport, because no one knew what was in the cartons and didn’t distribute it.

It seems like it would be possible to create a mobile network for tracking relief materials. At the airport, scan supplies as they arrive. In the field, request supplies as patients are presented. Between the airport and the field, track the vehicles. Geospatial tools would allow routes to be geodesigned transparently to optimally allocate supplies to areas of demand.

The Government of Haiti presented an Action Plan for rebuilding the nation at a donors conference today. Maybe the infrastructure needed to support RFID should be part of the plan. I expect more aid will be rushed to Haiti once the rainy season begins.


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