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Wireless packet network helps Red Cross keep communicating.

Hurricane Andrew was one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. In the Andrew aftermath, Florida Red Cross hurricane relief efforts were hampered by a severe lack of communication networks. Phone service was partially intact. Cellular networks were jammed. Traditional voice radio was ineffective.

Fortunately, a proprietary wireless communications device allowed American Red Cross field workers to communicate more effectively and reach disaster victims quickly.

The 9075 PCradio from IBM and Ardis is a ruggedized, DOS-based, handheld computer. It proved critical to Red Cross emergency efforts to assist people who needed food, water, medicine, sleeping facilities or clothing.

It also was used to communicate among field personnel and city, county, state and federal organizations and civilian relief organizations to respond to space availability in shelters, mass care facilities and requests for supplies.

"Shortly after setting up Red Cross headquarters in Miami, IBM offered the PCradios to aid the disaster relief effort," says Greg Tune, disaster computer operations officer for Red Cross.

"IBM shipped us 24 systems and helped us to maintain open, constant and instantaneous communications between headquarters and the warehouses and our 15 service centers. It was a godsend," Tune adds.

After the hurricane, the Red Cross served more than 3.5 million meals, met with 11,000 families and made 4,000 home visits.

"We could send out a global message to all 24 units simultaneously and receive answers instantly to dispatch food and supplies," says Tune. "Previously we had to depend on time-consuming, unreliable communications channels to contact each center. Now it's instantaneous."

While disaster recovery would have taken place without the help of technology, the system streamlined the task.

Equipped to communicate via standard twisted pair phone lines, cellular communications or wireless packet data radio transmissions, the radio-based PCradio model used by the Red Cross transmits messages and data in a matter of seconds as short bursts or packets. With phone and cellular lines disabled, data packet radio proved to be the only communications solution for the Red Cross.

This method of data transmission allows for exceptionally long battery life, a key consideration for Red Cross and other mobile field workers who have little time to recharge batteries. The packets travel via a nationwide, dedicated radio network called Ardis. Ardis provided unlimited free air time to the Red Cross as part of the Hurricane Andrew recovery efforts.

The PCradio system is used by mobile field force workers such as utility field crews, transportation companies and emergency response personnel who need to exchange information with other computer systems via wireless communications. Built to withstand the heat, humidity, rain, vehicle vibration and rough handling of the field environment, the PCradio proved invaluable to disaster recovery efforts.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:IBM's 9075 PCradio
Publication:Communications News
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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