OAK RIDGE (WATE) -- The backbone of a search and rescue mission is knowing where to look. Technology at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is being used to help rescue workers find survivors in Haiti and get them supplies they need.
A giant screen at ORNL doesn't show movies, but shows where everyone in the world chooses to live and move about the earth's surface.
The technology collects numerous census data and fine tunes it with satellite imagery. That means it shows you more than just how many people live in an area. It shows where they are at a given point in time.
"You can understand where those people are, who those people might be and what sort of threats and risks they are exposed to from natural and other kinds of disaster," explains ORNL researcher Budhendra Bhaduri.
Known as Land Scan, the global population distribution model is the most precise in history. It's relied on by all major aid agencies when disaster strikes.
It was instrumental in saving thousands of lives when a tsunami hit Southeast Asia in 2004 and it's helping aid workers in Haiti now.
"For search and rescue, this becomes a very important part because once everything is destroyed you don't know whether broken down rubble used to be a home or empty space," Bhaduri explains.
One pixel represents one square kilometer. By looking at the model, aid agencies know where best to concentrate search efforts and send more supplies.
"You can estimate how much food is required, water is required, shelter is required and clothes that you need to provide," Bhaduri says.
Prior to this technology, workers would often have to rely on word of mouth to find victims.
Now, victims have better chance of being found alive.
A team of about 15 researchers began working on Land Scan in 1998. Their work is by no means complete.
They're still working on making the resolution finer and also expanding the model to show differing populations for day and night across the U.S. and eventually, the world.