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Wireless in Wartime

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Are we ready for 21st century warfare? Although the cell phone swinging from your hip may be the source of fun and family connectedness, this technology takes on very serious dimensions during critical times.
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War is serious business. Just ask anyone who tries to fall asleep amid the crackling of gunfire overhead, or lives with the daily threat of air raids. In an instant, mobile phones that have been the source of countless hours of enjoyment become lifelines in a quest for survival. Most poignantly, the attacks at the World Trade Center brought this fact to light.

Wireless technology plays a critical role in emergencies, both here and abroad. During the past few months, we've heard voices from inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and we've seen cell phones ring incessantly as they lay in the rubble of once-thriving cafés in Jerusalem. Whether people are connecting with others to get a message through or seeking the whereabouts of friends and relatives, it's because of wireless technology that the world is a little closer, even when it's at war.

As in everyday life, technology has become an integral part of the communications process for both citizens and militia. Budgets ranging into the billions have been allocated—with the goal of outfitting the armed forces with the best and most technologically sophisticated equipment available. From embedded sensor packs (wearable wireless technology) being investigated for the military by MIT to virtual game simulations of terrorists under development at the University of Pennsylvania, every aspect of new and innovative applications are being considered.

In the Aftermath of 9/11

Emanating directly from the World Trade Center attacks is a $3.5 billion initiative to improve the response capabilities of emergency teams first on the scene—known as first responders. Grants have been given to researchers at Georgia Tech University for the purpose of improving the information gathering, critical assessment, and medical capabilities of these emergency personnel. In last fall's tragedy, the multiple radio frequencies of legacy systems caused a great deal of confusion and were generally found to be lacking in efficiency when compared to state-of-the-art wireless systems.

To solve these problems, work is continuing on The Medical Reachback System, an ongoing joint project between Georgia Tech and the Centers for Disease Control. The Medical Reachback system is both a medical instrumentation device and a wireless communication tool small enough to be easily carried into an emergency situation. By connecting to wireless LAN, emergency personnel can check a victim's vital signs, including pulse, EKG, and blood pressure. This information can be relayed to a hospital for further instructions or to a command center for symptom analysis. This two-way communication can provide the proper diagnosis and the appropriate treatments. Handheld air sensors can speed the identification of chemical or biological agents. This technology is designed to assist both civilian and military emergency teams.

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