MIT Lincoln Laboratory researchers provide support to the U.S. military's Haiti relief effort

Researchers from MIT Lincoln Laboratory are helping with the U.S. military's support to earthquake disaster-relief operations in Haiti by applying their decision-support expertise and the Laboratory's advanced imaging technology to provide essential information to relief agencies.

Dr. Marc Zissman, assistant head of the Communication Systems and Cyber Security Division, assisted the U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM), which is managing the U.S. military response in Haiti, with the design and implementation of an assessment of (1) the basic survival needs of the Haitian population, (2) the effectiveness of current relief operations in meeting medical, engineering, and security objectives, and (3) the logistics surrounding the delivery of services to the appropriate sites. Dr. Andy Vidan, a technical staff member in the Advanced System Concepts Group who has experience developing decision support tools for use in a disaster management system, was stationed at USSOUTHCOM headquarters in Miami to help define the data requirements and perform assessments. 

Photo of team working at US Embassy in HaitiMarc Zissman (in orange and blue cap) attends a meeting at the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince to plan activities for assessment of the military's Haiti relief operation.

Zissman spent more than a month in Port-au-Prince with Joint Task Force–Haiti, assembling a multiorganizational team to analyze the data that will be coming from various data collections, including face-to-face surveys with Haitians, and to develop ways to convey the analyzed data in user-friendly formats.

In addition to researchers at Lincoln Laboratory, the team includes people from the Partners in Health organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the MIT Sloan School of Management, and other universities and organizations.

At Lincoln Laboratory, Dr. Douglas Jones of the Human Language Technology Group investigated how machine-learning technology might be used to predict the threshold of what is required for a minimal standard of living. Jones examined the survey questionnaire to determine which variables will most quickly predict that threshold. Then, Jones and Matt Kercher of the Airborne Networks Group followed up this work with tours in Haiti to see the recommendations through implementation.  

While the primary goal of the assessment team is to provide a quantitative evaluation of the military's performance in the relief operation, a secondary goal is to leave a legacy of information that could be useful to organizations that will be doing long-term humanitarian and rebuilding work in Haiti. Jeremy Mineweaser of the Laboratory’s Net-centric Operations Group is looking at how to use the data to support USSOUTHCOM's analysis and at how relevant subsets of this information might be relayed rapidly to non-government relief organizations.

In another effort, Armen Babikyan of the Laboratory's Wideband Tactical Networking Group assisted USSOUTHCOM with the development of a new medical-sector crisis-information management system that will be used by organizations working to address Haiti's health emergencies.

Researchers using the Laboratory's advanced imaging capabilities are assisting with data collection of another sort. Dr. Richard Heinrichs and Robert Knowlton, group leader and technical staff member respectively in the Active Optical Systems Group, responded to USSOUTHCOM's request that MIT Lincoln Laboratory's Airborne Ladar Imaging Research Testbed (ALIRT) system be deployed to investigate the ability of three-dimensional (3D) ladar imagery to support military efforts in Haiti. The ALIRT system has been developed by the Laboratory to assess the ability of avalanche photodiode arrays to produce high-quality 3D imagery.

Image of bridge in HaitiThis 3D image provided by the Lincoln Laboratory ALIRT system allows USSOUTHCOM to see the trafficability of the bridge. The colors indicate the relative heights of the terrain and structures being imaged; the spectrum shades from red at the highest height through orange, yellow, green, aqua, and finally blue at the low end. The black object is a vehicle that is crossing the unobstructed bridge.

The system and team deployed immediately to Miami, then to Turks and Caicos Islands, and initiated data mission flights on 18 January. Flight operations consist of flying one to four missions per 24-hour period to collect ladar data from a variety of areas designated by USSOUTHCOM on a daily basis.

The imagery resulting from that data collection is being used to determine migration of displaced persons, location of acceptable helicopter landing zones, trafficability of roads and bridges, and a 3D terrain base for future operations.

Image of suburb of Port-au-Prince showing nightly population changes  
By comparing nighttime imaging of a suburb of Port-au-Prince, USSOUTHCOM can determine activity in the area, such as an increase in the number of tents and other structures or an increase in tree cutting. Such comparisons help predict population locations, activity, and population movement. The blue areas denote objects imaged on the collection night, and red marks objects from an earlier night's collection.

The ALIRT ladar has provided nightly volumetric change detection of the United Nations' Distribution Sites and IDP (internally displaced persons) camps in the Port-Au-Prince area in support of Operation Unified Response, the overarching designation for USSOUTHCOM activities in and over Haiti. The system has also provided a 600 km2 3D map of the Port-Au-Prince area at 30 cm resolution.

Image of Haiti National Palace  
This quick-look image provided by the Lincoln Laboratory ALIRT system shows the National Palace and surrounding area. The color code indicates the relative heights of the terrain and structures being imaged.

The imagery data is processed by Lincoln Laboratory and team members from a number of other organizations, and delivered to USSOUTHCOM for exploitation and dissemination to the military commanders to aid in making aid-distribution decisions and performing damage assessment.

Posted May 2010

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