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SOUTHCOM showing off new disaster-relief gear

Sep. 3, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
John Hall
John Hall, president and CEO of Voxtec International, demonstrates his company's real-time translation system Sept. 3 during a media opportunity at the U.S. Southern Command headquarters in Doral, Fla. (Wilfredo Lee / AP)
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MIAMI — Drones, portable network systems and wearable, real-time translation devices are among the new equipment U.S. military officials hope will improve communications during disaster relief and humanitarian assistance missions.

A variety of gear being tested by U.S. Southern Command was demonstrated Wednesday at its headquarters near Miami.

SOUTHCOM oversees U.S. military operations in Central and South America and the Caribbean. Its duties often include responding to natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes in impoverished regions.

The technology builds on lessons learned from international relief efforts in the wake of a catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010, officials said.

For example, an online network where military, government agencies, non-governmental organizations and other emergency responders could share and translate information, contribute to maps of damaged areas and make requests for assistance was fast-tracked after the earthquake and has since been used in relief efforts in Japan in 2011 and the Philippines in 2013.

Some of the equipment on display provides clean water, renewable power and communications networks in emergencies where infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed.

There also were drones not much bigger than dinner plates that can be used to inspect infrastructure and assess heavily damaged areas not accessible by vehicle or on foot. Each drone can fly in a variety of weather conditions and is equipped with three cameras and thermal imaging that also could be used in search-and-rescue operations, said Rear Adm. Scott Jerabek.

Also available were devices that provide two-way speech translation without a connection to a cellular network or the Internet. The devices can be hand-held or clipped to clothing and translate conversations in real time.

SOUTHCOM is evaluating the gear in partnership with other federal agencies, emergency management officials in Honduras and the Dominican Republic and military counterparts in Brazil, Colombia and Peru.

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