Friday, November 9, 2012

Crowdsourced Disaster Assessment for Hurricane Sandy

All I can say is, this is fantastic. FEMA, the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) and MapMill have teamed up to make a crowdsourced disaster assessment tool for the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Very simple - just go to the site, you'll be shown a high resolution image of an area affected by Sandy taken by CAP, with a little magnifying glass. You then follow some simple rules for classifying damage as light, moderate or heavy.  Results are then used to prioritize assessment done by experts at FEMA. A beautifully designed tool, a great example of the use of informatics in disasters, and a great innovation by FEMA.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Firefighting with the Semantic Web

I spend most of my time on this blog talking about social media, emergency management and disaster preparedness. However, most of my academic research is about large scale data aggregation, integration and analysis, with a focus on drug discovery data. Particularly, we have shown how semantic technologies (otherwise known as Semantic Web) can be used to elegantly address a long standing problem of integrating complex heterogenous data sources in a way which enables interesting and critically important patterns to be detected that cross the data sets (for more on this, see For a long time I've thought there is a huge potential for applying these techniques to the complex streams of data related to emergencies and disasters, in order to improve emergency response and situational awareness.

So I'm really excited to have stumbled upon the work of Bart van Leeuwen, a firefighter turned Semantic Web expert in Amsterdam who has not just prototyped such a system, but has shown how it can positively impact real world, everyday firefighting operations in the busy city of Amsterdam. For those of us in the U.S., this shows what could be possible if we (academics, computation experts and practitioners) put our minds together!

A good place to start is with the video (also embedded below) of Bart's presentation at SemTechBiz West 2012, along with the associated text description. He also is @semanticfire on Twitter and runs a blog. He also runs a company called Netage related to this work.