Disaster Management Workshop Emphasizes Community Approach-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

Disaster Management Workshop Emphasizes Community Approach

Community first responders participate in the Emergency Vehicle Plugfest data interoperability exercise.
Community first responders participate in the Emergency Vehicle Plugfest data interoperability exercise.

As devastating disasters like Hurricane Sandy and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake have shown, traditional telecommunications infrastructure is highly vulnerable, causing difficulties in communication between neighbors and emergency personnel. Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley’s 3rd Annual Disaster Management Initiative (DMI) Workshop sought to provide solutions to issues in community resilience and data interoperability, especially as it pertains to communication.

The two-day workshop, “Making Smart Communities Resilient,” brought together industry leaders and community first responders to test technologies and ideas that could improve disaster management before, during and after emergencies. “The key idea of our workshop this year was to focus on interoperability actions and low cost, open source technologies to simplify communications among citizens, first responders and emergency vehicles,” said Dr. Martin Griss, Director of the Disaster Management Initiative.

CMUSV Distinguished Research Fellow, Dr. Steven Ray, led an Emergency Vehicle Plugfest to collect data on measures of interoperability among mobile command and communication vehicles using primarily Wifi clouds. Emergency vehicles from Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Monterey County and Cisco participated in the event. Building on last year’s event by taking a more structured approach to testing, Dr. Ray said, “Our goal is to get a much clearer picture of what each vehicle’s capabilities are in regards to data sharing.”

The Palo Alto Mobile Emergency Operations Center (MEOC) has also been collaborating with Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley in the Survivable Social Networks (SSN) project, part of the Silicon Valley Resilient Network (SVRN). Dr. Bob Iannucci, Director of the CyLab Mobility Research Center and his team of graduate students led a Community/Agency Interoperability event to demonstrate the potential of SSN to provide an alternative avenue of communication when Internet and cell towers are down. Rather than relying on large telecommunications infrastructure, SSN creates a standalone wifi "bubble,” to allow members of a community and emergency personnel to communicate within a local network. Through a mini social network, residents could report incidents and municipal officials or emergency personnel could send out alerts and announcements, such as, evacuation instructions.

“There is great power in this social networking concept when it is combined with inexpensive, scalable and resilient infrastructure. We’ve created SSN such that it requires no installation and no training. Our hope is that this will become a tool that can be self-deployed at the neighborhood level, affording community members critical resources during a disaster and the ability to be resources to each other,” said Dr. Iannucci.

Bruce Mueller, Director of Next Generation Broadband Wireless Research for Motorola Solutions also pointed to the importance of community interaction during emergencies as shown recently on the East Coast. “The response from neighbors to neighbors before, during and after Hurricane Sandy is a sign of hope. It shows that people haven’t given up on community but that it plays a critical role in communication during disasters,” said Mueller.

Interest in the Plugfest and SSN demo included city officials, including the Mayor of Mountain View, Michael Kasperzak, who participated in the SSN demo by announcing a simulated “fire” emergency. “We are considering how to incorporate these technologies into the community,” said Kasperzak. Lynn Brown, Coordinator for Office of Emergency Services of Mountain View Fire Department said that SSN is something Mountain View Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) should consider.

Several invited speakers emphasized the importance of collaboration across public and private sectors on the issue of preparedness. Barbara Larkin, CEO of the American Red Cross Silicon Valley chapter reported that though 77% of Bay Area residents expect a severe disaster in the next two years, only 19% have taken the necessary steps to prepare, and encouraged Carnegie Mellon University and other private sector companies to assist the Red Cross in preparedness efforts. Jim Turner, Private Sector Liason for the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management (DEM) echoed this sentiment. “Preparedness is everyone’s job, not just the job of the Red Cross and the government. The space where technology meets humanity is where we’re going to thrive.”

In the closing North Counties Alliance panel discussion, Kenneth Dueker, Director of Emergency Services for the City of Palo Alto, Brad Wardle, Chief of Mountain View Fire Department and Scott Vermeer, Chief of Mountain View Police Department presented opportunities for regional efforts to improve interoperability and emergency management. Dueker said the city’s partnership with the university is an asset to the Bay Area community. “Because of Dr. Griss and his leadership, CMUSV is different from the typical academic environment where concepts are often purely theoretical. There’s certainly value to the academic side of things but we’re trying to find points of tangency where the needs of our practitioner world meets academia.”

The 2012 DMI Workshop both solidified and created new opportunities for collaborations among Carnegie Mellon, community first responders and industry leaders to create practical solutions to real-world problems. Data collected from the Plugfest and SSN will help researchers continue their efforts to improve disaster management in Silicon Valley and beyond.

Watch a video segment of the 2012 DMI Workshop on local news at ABC7 News. 

Visit the DMI Workshop program page for slides, photos and notes from this year’s workshop.