Life-saving GPS technology helps in natural disasters | Panda Anku

By Alex Damato, Acting CEO, GPS Innovation Alliance

Alex Damato

It can be easy to take GPS for granted as the average driver and smartphone user continues to enjoy the convenience, entertainment and navigation of this technology that enhances almost every aspect of our daily lives. While we don’t enjoy its benefits every day, one key use case keeps us and our environment safer: GPS has become a vital part of modern emergency response.

Many Americans across the country are preparing for the upcoming hurricane season or the threat of other natural disasters like wildfires and earthquakes. GPS will play a critical role in recovery and response efforts. When natural disasters strike, accurate and actionable location information helps save lives and restore critical infrastructure as quickly as possible.

GPS has fundamentally improved access to information that can help the public prepare for these natural disasters, rather than waiting for them to strike. This information is more important than ever. For example, the California oak fire spread to nearly 20,000 acres and is part of a larger trend in California that has destroyed 14,700 buildings and killed 36 people in the past two years. Further north, 530 Alaskan wildfires burned areas larger than the state of Connecticut in the state’s worst fire season in recent history.

Photo: Alextov//iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Photo: Alextov//iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

GPS not only helps the public cope with natural disasters, but also helps firefighters plan their operations more efficiently and allows them to get real-time information on the location of the wildfires they are fighting. With real-time mapping, planning, and deployment, fire chiefs can respond immediately to areas where wildfires are spreading dangerously.

GPS, in turn, protects our first responders by preventing firefighters from getting into unpredictable fires that they otherwise would not have known were coming their way.

Firefighters use IGNIS drones to prevent wildfires from starting or to safely contain them with backburn. IGNIS relies on GPS for location, safety and control, which in turn helps firefighters avoid the dangers associated with close proximity to mandatory burns. Without GPS, resources to support firefighters would not be used as efficiently, allowing wildfires to spread even faster and cause even more damage to our homes and infrastructure.

Beyond wildfires, GPS technology is vital for emergency response and weather safety. GPS data allows emergency responders to better locate callers and reduce the incidence of misdirections to outside jurisdictions. Using GPS data, a caller can be located in the immediate vicinity of his actual location. By reducing misdirection rates and pinpointing emergency locations accurately, GPS helps reduce response time by eliminating the need to reroute calls and look up caller locations.

In a recent experiment, researchers commissioned by NASA used GPS signals to better predict a hurricane’s maximum wind speed, which could help federal agencies and forecasters better predict hurricane danger and provide more actionable information to determine whether to issue evacuation orders must.

The GPS Innovation Alliance (GPSIA) is proud to support the role of GPS as a key enabler technology for public safety, disaster preparedness and relief efforts. With GPS, both consumers and first responders have accurate, real-time location information at their fingertips, from pre-disaster planning to post-disaster recovery. While GPS has already fundamentally improved modern emergency call systems, GPSIA will continue to promote the continued growth of these life-saving GPS-enabled technologies and applications through rigorously developed technical rules, interference protection and a predictable frequency environment.

Many of us have grown accustomed to the ease of use of GPS-enabled technologies, from smartphones to fitness trackers. At GPSIA, we are also particularly proud of the role that GPS plays in the many other life-saving uses of the technology, and we are committed to continuing this important work.

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