Emergency Officials: New Cell Technology Could Save Lives

By: David Norris Email
By: David Norris Email

COLLEGE STATION, Texas Dozens of emergency responders covered the grounds at Texas A&M University's Disaster Field Thursday. In the spotlight, a new technology that could save lives.

The Cellular On Wheels, or C.O.W. is exactly what the name suggests. A mobile cell tower, able to cover about six square miles.

First responders use the same commercial cell providers as the general public. During a disaster, cell phone service can become bogged down, or completely inoperable. C.O.W. utilizes a dedicated government broadband service, and gives first responders in the field the ability to send real-time, critical updates to the managers at base.

Susann Brown is the team manager for FEMA's Task Force 1. During her 14 years in the field, she's seen her share of disasters, including 9/11 and the plant explosion in West, Texas.

"Most of what we do as a task for is responding to very large geographical areas where our team and multiple teams are spread out over miles," said Brown. "And trying to get real time information to them is a challenge."

Brown said what they've used in the past to get information is paper and pen. She said not only does that take more time, but it leaves more room for error.

"What this provides is real time, extremely accurate, timely information that is being entered by those field teams on site, very quickly," said Brown.

Managers can map crew locations, houses they've cleared or need attention, and pinpoint locations of stranded survivors.

The C.O.W. system is able to work with multiple technologies, such as search robots and sky cameras. Many of which were in test Thursday.

Brown said she hopes to see FEMA and other emergency responders purchase the technology soon.

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