To provide timely response and proper reaction to disasters, emergency management agencies must track the condition of all critical infrastructure and the availability of key resources locally, regionally and nationally, as well as ensure the ultimate return of equipment. One of the biggest challenges is in coordinating data, information sources and responses among several agencies to improve the ability of emergency managers to make the most informed decisions.
Equally important, says Worboys, is having people trained to properly interpret and react to the integrated information in such an upgraded emergency operations center.
The first step in SenseME has been to identify critical infrastructure, such as bridges and dams, and the logistical assets, such as generators, cots and potable water that require monitoring as part of emergency management. That investigation was done in collaboration with state and federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, Maine National Guard, FEMA and MEMA.
Maine does have some sensor systems, such as flood gauges maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey. But improved collection, mapping and distribution of the information from such existing and new technology could improve emergency management.
UMaine researchers are exploring the integration of even more sophisticated wireless sensor technology, such as video, radar, seismic, magnetic and passive infrared for aerial and ground-based monitoring. The goal is to provide a robust data stream-based management infrastructure that supports the efficient capture and convenient analysis of a variety of real-time data feeds. Informatics, or the complex management of information, can create a common operating picture for response and recovery operations.
“Once we have that picture of what’s going on in the world, then it’s a matter of distilling that chaos into something manageable,” says Emerson. “It’s important for the Maine National Guard and the Maine Emergency Management Agency to understand what the different capabilities of the technology can bring them, and help them figure out when technology is useful and when it’s not.”
Such humanitarian uses for technology have implications beyond just managing emergency response in Maine’s two largest natural disasters — ice storms and floods. The research also is expected to improve emergency management while maintaining control of sensitive information in the event of severe weather and mass care, sourcing and dispatching assets, border protection, disease surveillance and reporting, and monitoring of hazardous cargo.
SenseME is expected to serve as a springboard for the establishment of a UMaine Center for Spatial Computing in Emergency Management, focused on ubiquitous spatial computing methods and technologies to support emergency management in Maine and nationwide.
“Five years ago, this technology wasn’t ready,” says Worboys. “Now integrated wireless sensors are ready for general applicability” to benefit humanitarian and environmental efforts.