In the case of Smith's Rapid Response Team, the goal was to cut down the time it took to conduct a Rapid Needs Assessment (RNA) -- a methodology developed by the CDC and the World Health Organization to gather data on health needs during disasters. They also need to get the work done without assistance from CDC headquarters or other external bodies.
As was clearly demonstrated in the days following Hurricane Katrina, disaster responses must first be a local action. Communities can't wait for the federal government to arrive on the scene.
Smith contracted with Bradshaw Consulting Services, Inc. (BCS) of Aiken, S.C., to install and configure appropriate hardware, develop customized data collection forms and train users. This GPS combo consists of HP's iPaq or Dell Axim X50V handhelds running Windows and a laptop. The handhelds also include a GPS card from GlobalSat. The applications and forms utilize several ESRI products, including ArcPad and ArcGIS.
A typical scenario might involve 10 or more teams going out into the field with handhelds, each connected to a laptop field computer at the staging area. The survey teams would be guided by the GPS/GIS to the appropriate locations to conduct the interviews. The surveys automatically include the GPS coordinates for the location, so surveyors don't have to determine the address and fill it in. They then return to the base station to upload the survey information from the laptop.
''We can do the analysis right there in the field if we need to,'' says Smith. ''But if we have a wireless phone card in the laptop, we can access the server at the state capital so our state epidemiologists can analyze the data themselves in real time.''
Joey Wilson, BCS's mobile technologies manager, says GPS really proved itself this fall when the CDC requested help conducting an RNA in Florida following Hurricane Wilma. Within 24 hours of deployment, interviewers were trained and on the ground.
''The interviewers came from North Carolina, but GPS helped them go directly to locations around an unfamiliar city without lost time,'' says Wilson.
As a result they were able to conduct more than 300 interviews in less than three days and digitally transfer the data to the CDC. This cut the time the CDC needed to calculate the needs for 150,000 people in the area from several weeks to a matter of days.
''The CDC had been developing its own in-house questionnaire application, but it didn't include a GPS component,'' Wilson adds. ''Now they are aware of how valuable locational awareness is and how much time it saves interviewers.''