Despite the tremendous advances in disaster preparedness and improved management of humanitarian supply chains since the Indonesian tsunami relief in 2003, there remains a significant gap in the time from the occurrence of disaster events to the time when relief arrives to the average citizen affected by these events. To be clear, this is not an insult to those brave professionals who do this arduous business on a recurring basis. Instead, the point is made to reinforce just how difficult humanitarian logistics really are – especially over “the last mile.” Despite having goods prepositioned, expeditionary communications ready to deploy, and fleets of delivery trucks poised to be shipped into country, the gap remains. In short, logistics is just plain difficult. At its core, humanitarian logistics is all about the physics of moving large amounts of bulky items across long distances despite heavily damaged infrastructures… and that takes time.
“How can technology assist relief efforts following a rapid onset emergency but before the receipt of traditionally delivered relief supplies which may take days or even weeks?”
SkyLIFE, over the last couple of years, has been asking the question –– “How can technology assist relief efforts folllowing a rapid onset emergency before the receipt of traditionally-delivered relief supplies - which may take days or even weeks?” This is akin to the military’s "Golden Hour" medical evacuation dilemma. In combat situations, the gravely wounded were found to have significantly higher survival rates if they could receive treatment at an intermediate level medical facility within the first hour following injury. As such, triage teams and medical evacuation helicopters were carefully prepositioned as closely to the front lines as possible in order to shorten the transit distances and requisite time. But it wasn’t until the advent of the tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey, that the Golden Hour requirement could be met from almost anywhere on the battlefield. The aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter, yet flies with the speed of a fixedwing plane, revolutionized the medical evacuation logistics dilemma. In a similar fashion, SkyLIFE believes that it too can solve many of our immediate relief problems through the use of aviation and cutting edge technology. As such, SkyLIFE has set out to reinvent the humanitarian “golden hour” and provide relief where (and when) there has traditionally been none.
As stated earlier, emergency logistics takes time. It is an art to move tons of supplies and equipment across time and space, and then distribute them across a country with an infrastructure that has generally been wiped out by natural (and sometimes manmade) causes. And, unless you are one of the lucky few who lives nearby a suitable (and undamaged) port, airfield, or roadway, you are likely to spend many days (or weeks) waiting for water, food or medical supplies. Physics, being what they are, generally preclude moving large bulky items over vast distances in short amounts of time, much less portioning and distributing these supplies to those who need them. Instead, SkyLIFE believes the problem should be approached from a different direction. As such, SkyLIFE engineered patented aerodynamic packets that can be dropped from almost any type of aircraft, and that carry single servings of food, water, and first aid supplies directly to those in need– without having to land the aircraft or clear hazardous drop zones. By supplying this “band-aid” fix, SkyLIFE supplies will both increase the survival rate and reduce the suffering for those waiting on traditional relief efforts to arrive. And, because SkyLIFE packs are strewn across large areas, they cannot be hoarded or become subject to banditry. SkyLIFE packs, delivered by the thousands, gently flutter from the sky enabling everyone to receive critical supplies. Delivery by this method also avoids predicaments where crowds rush toward supply convoys and/or helicopters creating extremely hazardous situations. To be clear, SkyLIFE is not a replacement for existing efforts, but rather a complementary, interim delivery mechanism focused on saving lives and providing hope to survivors of these types of events while traditional methods are
being pursued. SkyLIFE is designed to help people survive “until the cavalry arrives” (traditional relief efforts)…
In concert with the theme of using technology to improve our relief efforts, SkyLIFE has also created a small communications device called the LiveLeaf audio card. It is a lightweight electronics card (capable of being included into SkyLIFE packs and delivered from the air) that was designed to allow the storage and playback of 90 seconds of audio recordings. These messages can be in any (or multiple) languages and can contain instructions about where to go and what (or what NOT) to do. If the area has a relatively developed infrastructure, FM receivers can also be embedded into the cards, allowing NGOs, governments and militaries to transmit real-time instructions to their citizens. Other versions have beacons that can provide geo-location data to Assessment Teams and NGO command centers who are making decisions about where to establish relief centers and medical stations. And, for those who require “verification” that relief supplies have been delivered, LiveLeaf cards can also be programmed to record the date, time and location that the packs were delivered and even picked up by affected personnel. Future techniques could even have advance element Assessment Teams, calling in “aerial support” from SkyLIFE equipped aircraft, delivering desperately needed supplies in exactly the right locations well before supply convoys can traverse damaged roads.
These examples of the use of technology are merely the tip of the iceberg for immediate relief efforts of the future. Even as this article is being written, SkyLIFE drops are being performed in South Sudan, expanding our understanding of technology’s capabilities. Soon the use of unmanned air systems (UAS), crowdsourcing applications (perhaps augmented by ad hoc networks enabled by UAS and SkyLIFE-delivered base stations), and modular open-source collaboration software will reshape how we conduct relief operations. SkyLIFE looks forward to working with those pioneers who want to change the playing field, those who want to shatter the “golden hour,” and those who are not content to let the conventional definition of physics get in their way… Using technology, SkyLIFE saves lives and provides hope. We look forward to working with those at AIDF who wish to do the same.