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Joe Stuteville
School of Informatics

Last modified: Thursday, March 8, 2007

Blogging system would aid communicating, responding to disasters

March 8, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Timely and accurate information used by emergency responders often is lost in the helter skelter of massive natural disasters -- and Indiana University information technology experts are looking at ways to improve communications during such events.

David J. Wild

David J. Wild, assistant professor of informatics

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A team from the IU School of Informatics and the university's Pervasive Technology Labs has created the Bloomington Emergency Collaborative Information System, a research project in which bloggers monitor communication sources such as the Internet, television and two-way radio traffic, and then contact authorities.

"In the wake of recent disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, it was clear a lot of useful information was generated in blogs and other social computing sites, but there was no systematic way to use the information, and help responders and others get a real sense of what was happening," said David J. Wild, assistant professor of informatics. "Further, problems of reliability and trust hampered good use of this information."

Wild is joined in the project by Kalpana Shankar, assistant professor of informatics; Rick McMullen, director and principal scientist of the PTL's Knowledge Acquisition and Projection Lab; and Jaesoon An, a research scientist who works with McMullen.

The BECIS team recently unveiled its developing project to the Bloomington community, including representatives from the Monroe County Emergency Management, Monroe County Red Cross, Indiana Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, Monroe County Amateur Radio Emergency Services, Monroe County Search and Rescue, and the Monroe County Community Emergency Response Team.

As a result of that meeting, several people in the community volunteered to become "trusted reporters" for the BECIS blogging system. During an emergency, such as a tornado, the information collected by reporters monitoring one or more communications sources would feed pertinent information into the blog. The information then would be made immediately available to officials, emergency responders and volunteers.

"While it is only in the developmental stages, this project is harnessing local volunteer efforts, serving the community in which we live, and it provides a model, a new way, if you will, to think about information flow in emergencies," Wild said.

BECIS has potential to be expanded statewide. The IU scientists will soon meet with officials at the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, which combines the state's emergency management and homeland security efforts.

More information about the BECIS research project is at