Tools-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

Mobile Tools for Emergency Responders


As mobile devices grow more ubiquitous and wireless internet becomes pervasive, emergency first responders  -- professionals, partially trained Community Early Response Team members, and members of the public -- are using a variety of tools -social media, SMS, Twitter, and geotagged images captured on mobile devices, to produce large volumes of information about emergency incidents, some addressed to incident commanders and the rest just pumped into the ether. Most of this information may not be known to or accessible by first responders when it is timely. Social media particularly has the potential to improve situational awareness, but in many cases, its ease of use has created severe information overload.

We have developed a simple tool to address this problem. We add semantic geotagging at the device end (an Android phone or tablet) for trained responders, and support tagged messaging to devices used by other responders, so that new messages are properly situated in the context of the ongoing situation -- geographically, temporally, and in appropriate semantic relationship to existing information -- providing an intuitive organization of information which benefits both incident commanders and the responders by allowing simple and intuitive access to situation-relevant information. We combine a hyperwall-based version of the common operating picture platform (COPP) with a refined forms-based interface on the smart phone, to provide two-way situation-aware communication and coordination. A small set of typed hyperlinks support structured conversations about reported events and associate messages and images with event locations in the GIS-based COPP. Providing a simple, usable structure for a rapidly growing body of information simplifies and accelerates the development of situational awareness in an unfolding emergency. Imaging capability is used to pass relevant pictures and video to the COP to augment structured conversations, while location tracking of responders is utilized to situate and augment information. This system will be demonstrated and the workshop used to gather new requirements and proposed refinements. Among other enhancements, imaging capability to pass relevant pictures and video through from smart phones to the COPP has been added, along with location tracking of responders.


Steven Rosenberg, PhD. is Associate Director of Carnegie Melon Silicon Valley, and of the CMU-SV Disaster Management Initiative. Besides his work on Semantic Geotagging in the DMI, Steven does research on context-aware mobile computing and on tools for “strategic reading”.  Previously, while at HP Labs, Dr. Rosenberg led the creation of an expert systems language and tool kit used within HP and at several leading universities. Expert system solutions developed for HP included photolithography error diagnosis, computer configuration tools, mass spectroscopy analysis, and handwriting recognition. At the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Dr. Rosenberg created tools for visualizing the distribution systems for energy resources in the U.S. and understanding the impact of disruptions to the US energy distribution grid. As a member of M.I.T.’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, he engaged in research on computational linguistics, reasoning and knowledge representation.

Mike Prince, an affiliate of the DMI is prototyping an “overlay” application to provide enhanced geotargeting alerts to smartphones.  Mr. Prince is the designer of Citizen 911, which uses smartphones to provide emergency information and situational awareness during disasters when the cellular phone system and Internet are unavailable.  Previously he founded Yum-Yum Labs, which produced the top Android cooking application with over 4.5 million users, using social networking, messaging, games, and rich media to increase engagement.  In addition to ten years of cellular phone experience, Mr. Prince has another 20 years of technical and management experience including designing and building voice web servers at Nuance Communications, GIS rendering and synchronization systems for the real-estate industry, and manufacturing systems for thin-film superconductors.