Software developed by computer scientists could help to quickly and accurately locate missing people, rapidly identify those suffering from malnutrition and effectively point people towards safe zones simply by checking their phones.
It is hoped the smartphone technology could potentially not only help save lives but could also ease the financial and emotional burden on aid organisations.
The largest system developed by Dr Gavin Brown and his team Peter Sutton and Lloyd Henning in the Machine Learning and Optimisation group at The University of Manchester is the REUNITE mobile and web platform.
In the aftermath of a major disaster, aid workers typically interview people who have become separated from their families. These records are normally stored in paper form, which can be lost, damaged or illegible.
Although there are systems set up to solve this issue – such as the public search facilities set up by charities such as the Red Cross – there is no universal system to provide this vital task.
REUNITE records the initial interview using the smartphone, and uploads these onto a central server. These can then be accessed by trusted aid workers via computer away from the scene, who gather as much information as they can by liaising with other users in a similar manner to a social network, before passing details onto aid workers on the ground.