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In Haiti, RFID Brings Relief

In its efforts to provide assistance to the earthquake-damaged nation, the U.S. Department of Defense is using 433 MHz active RFID tags to track supplies and equipment.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Apr 08, 2010Soon after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, on Jan. 12, U.S. military forces arrived on the devastated island to provide aid. Due to the scale of the destruction and infrastructure loss, the only way to address the disaster was though a massive, months-long response. As part of its ongoing efforts to provide supplies to Haiti, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) is employing radio frequency identification to track shipping containers as they travel to and from the island. The tags are commissioned, read and tracked using the DOD's In-Transit Visibility (ITV) network, which the DOD utilizes for tracking materiel shipments all over the world, and which it last used in Haiti to track shipments in support of Operation Restore Democracy, from late 1994 to mid 1995.

Aside from the DOD's switch to 433 MHz active RFID tags complying with the ISO 18000-7 standard (see DOD Tests, Buys New ISO 18000-7 Tags From Four Companies), the RFID technology that the U.S. military uses has not changed significantly since the mid-1990s. Nonetheless, military personnel were able to deploy a reader infrastructure in Haiti much more easily this year than during its 1994 operation. This is because Savi Technology, the California-based RFID company that worked closely with the DOD to develop the ITV network, introduced portable deployment kits (PDKs) in 2005. Each kit contains an RFID reader, a mobile antenna and an Iridium 9601 Short Burst Data satellite modem (see U.S. Military Ramps Up Adoption of Satcom-RFID Kits), and makes establishing read points in the field a faster, simpler exercise than doing so without the kit. The PDKs provide a link to the Web-based ITV server through the Iridium modem. In 1994, military personnel often needed to locate phone lines to create an Internet connection to the server in the event that a satellite phone was unavailable.

Military personnel unloading supplies in Haiti

"From a commander's point of view, I'd say that the ITV was critical to the recent aid operations in Haiti," says Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Riddle, the commander of the 832nd Transportation Battalion, in Jacksonville, Fla. "This was a very complex mission, with a rapid deployment. It's something we don't do every day, but we prepare for every day. And the ITV network was absolutely critical [to its success]."

The military's Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) facility, located in Jacksonville, is the main U.S. hub for aid shipments sent to Haiti through the ITV network. The SDDC worked with the Joint Task Force-Haiti, a collaborative U.S. military effort established by the U.S. Southern Command to oversee a unified response to the earthquake, in order to deliver aid.

On Jan. 20, a military ship carrying a team from the Jacksonville SDDC, led by Christopher Goss, the 832nd Transportation Battalion's chief of traffic management, arrived at Port-au-Prince. "We were the first responders for opening the [military supply] port," he says, though aid had already been arriving on the island via alternate routes and from other sources. When Goss landed in Haiti, the terminal lacked power, so he and his team set up generators to power the RFID tag readers, satellite communications and computer equipment necessary for logging onto the Web-based ITV network.

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