Portsmouth Company Develops Way to Track Spread of Disease
By Michael Cousineau
Union Leader Staff
Sunday, October 29, 2006
Tracking the avian "bird" flu will be easier thanks to technology developed by a Portsmouth company, Global Relief Technologies.
People tracking the flu will use PDAs, or hand-held computer devices, to plug in information about patients and conditions. That information, which will note the person's exact location through GPS tracking, will be sent by way of satellite to the company headquarters and quickly analyzed with proprietary mission-specific software.
The U.S. Department of Defense believed in it so much that it awarded the company a &$3.5 million contract to provide about 120 PDAs early next year to Marine Corps field crews working in Southeast Asia. Plans call for the information to be shared with the World Health Organization.
"The overall objective of the contract is to identify what's going on with much greater speed and effect and accuracy with the avian flu in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Rim countries and see if it had made a jump – and whether it mutated into something more aggressive," CEO Michael Gray said in an interview yesterday.
The technology already is being employed by Marines in Afghanistan for major reconstruction projects and by Raytheon in Iraq to protect American troops.
It also was used by Marines after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast last year.
For this contract, five-man teams comprised of expeditionary Marine forces will collect information on the flu, such as the number of birds found dead and where the flu had spread in humans.
Information from dozens of assessment teams can, in some cases, be analyzed within hours. Charts and maps can be generated to provide demographics of those affected by the flu, where the flu is located and where and how quickly it is spreading.
GRT, which expects revenues to exceed $5 million this year, expects its 18-member workforce to grow to 25 shortly.
"Before this partnership, field crews were literally collecting data with pencils and paper, and then calling in their results over the phone," Gray said.
"This method took so long that the situation was changing faster than the data could be analyzed."
Gray, who was involved in rapid village assessment in the Balkans, was frustrated at how information on paper sometimes sat for months in boxes without being analyzed.
He also served as a liaison between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the State Department for humanitarian assistance planning in Afghanistan.
"A lot of data is not very valuable unless there's some type of analysis done," he said.
Several years ago, Gray approached former Sen. Warren Rudman, R–N.H., to express his frustrations.
Rudman, who attended yesterday's event announcing the contract, said he saw everyone from the military to the Department of Homeland Security being able to use GRT's work.
Rep. Jeb Bradley, R-N.H., who helped secure funding for the program, applauded the company for settling in New Hampshire and for "the revolutionary way we're going to communicate in emergency situations."