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News | June 12, 2014

U.S. military assessment team trains for future Central America disaster relief missions

By Capt. Steven Stubbs Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

The Joint Task Force-Bravo U. S. Southern Command Situational Assessment Team (SSAT) received training and performed practical exercises with the Automated Route Reconnaissance Kit (ARRK) from the Army South Geospatial Planning Cell this week in preparation for future disaster relief missions in Central America.

The ARRK employs a ruggedized laptop computer to automatically and continuously collect road information and condition without requiring the vehicle to stop or personnel to leave the vehicle for routine calculations. The ARRK collects photographs, voice recordings, global positioning system (GPS) locations, accelerometer data, and gyroscope data streams in three dimensions. Data collection for the ARRK can be accomplished through ground or air reconnaissance.

The final package presents a chronological picture replay of the route and a geo-referenced display of major features, bridges, and obstructions that influence the classification and usage of the road or route. Personnel reviewing collected data can scroll through and instantly locate specific features along the route.

"As the students are driving along the route, the GPS grabs the exact location so the data, pictures and video that is entered into the system is actually geo-referenced so it has a grid location," said U. S. Army Staff Sgt. Patrick Trevillion, Army South Geospatial Planning Cell member and ARRK instructor. "This enables the mission planners to be able to choose the best and safest route into an affected area."

When a disaster, whether it is natural or man-made, occurs in Central America, the SSAT team is deployed to provide an immediate assessment of conditions and recommend further actions for relief. The team coordinates with the U. S. Embassy, representatives from the nation affected by the disaster and other agencies to identify the most efficient method to coordinate a U.S. government response to the disaster.

"As engineers with the SSAT, we will go out and do reconnaissance on infrastructures such as roads and bridges," said U. S. Army 1st Lt. William Jung, a Joint Task Force-Bravo SSAT engineer. "The ARRK system gives us the capability to go out and recon the scene before anyone can enter the area and provide the most up-to-date information to the decision makers so they can prioritize their missions."

Although the ARRK can be intimidating with all of the different technologies incorporated, the system is very user friendly once the operator becomes familiar with it.

"The system was difficult to operate by concept before the trainers came," said Jung. "But after going through the course, it is fairly easy and will be a huge asset for us to use in the future. Hopefully we won't have to use the system but if we are called upon to support a disaster, we have been well trained by the instructors so we'll be able to carry out the mission."

U.S. Southern Command's foreign disaster relief and humanitarian assistance missions and programs are a central part of the U.S. Government's effort to save lives, alleviate suffering, and enhance security and stability in Central America.