NCSA scientist using Big Data to aid emergency responders

06.28.17 -

We regularly hear the importance in packing water, blankets, and an FM/AM radio in response to a weather- or human-created disaster.

Now researchers at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign want to make sure that leaders at the state, county and city levels leverage Big Data to help inform plans of action.

Scott Poole, a senior research scientist at NCSA, is the principal investigator of a project to help organize and streamline efforts to gather data to save lives when disaster strikes. Poole is also a researcher in the Department of Communication at Illinois and Director of I-CHASS, the Institute for Computing in the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at Illinois. Poole’s group, which includes Alex Yahja of NCSA, Kathleen Carley of Carnegie Mellon University, Carenlee Barkdull of the University of North Dakota, and Nitesh Chawla of the University of Notre Dame, won a $100,000 award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) as part of the foundation's Big Data Regional Innovation Hubs project.

The Midwest Big Data Hub, one of four regional hubs around the United States, is headed by NCSA and focuses on finding and solving grand challenges that affect the region like agriculture, advanced manufacturing and genomics. Poole’s award is part of the "Big Data Spoke Initiative," which is meant to address the use of data across the entire Big Data (BD) Hub project. According to the White House, "[e]ach BD Spoke will focus on a specific BD Hub priority area and address one or more of three key issues: improving access to data, automating the data lifecycle, and applying data science techniques to solve domain science problems or demonstrate societal impact."

Poole commented on the project: "One of the critical challenges Illinois and the U.S. face is coping with emergencies due to disasters like major floods, tornadoes, and civic unrest. This project will investigate the potential for Big Data—harnessed through integrated and networked data resources, along with the proper analytics—to benefit preparation, response, and recovery processes. It will bring together leaders in disaster response at state, county, and city levels with data scientists to craft a plan to capitalize on existing data and to utilize previously untapped data for emergency response and recovery. Emergency management agencies in Illinois and elsewhere have developed some impressive tools for managing logistics and coordinating response to major incidents, and a meeting of the minds among data scientists and high level emergency managers has the potential to spark some novel ideas and schemes for better handling emergencies.

Emergency Management partners in this project include MABAS-IL, which provides resource allocation and special operations teams for fire services in Illinois, ILEAS, which provides mutual aid, emergency response, and resources integration for public safety and police agencies in Illinois, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, the Illinois Fire Service Institute, the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, and the City of Grand Forks.

The project held a workshop at the MABAS-IL Center in Wheeling, Illinois on May 10, 2017, which generated a set of ideas that is currently being developed into a plan for applications to support preparation, response, and recovery from disasters.