NSF Assistant Director Freeman Gets Close-up View of ResCUE Program

January 24, 2005 -- Dr. Peter Freeman, assistant director of Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) at the National Science Foundation, gained new insight into Calit2’s ResCUE project last week. Freeman spent Friday, Jan. 21, visiting with ResCUE investigators, viewing posters and demos, and discussing project details with investigators and graduate student researchers.

Vidhya Balasubramanian explains her research project to Dr. Freeman.

ResCUE – Responding to Crises and Unexpected Events – is a joint UCI/UCSD project funded by a $12.5 million NSF grant. Subcontractors include faculty from Brigham Young University and the Universities of Maryland, Colorado, and Illinois/Urbana-Champaign, and ImageCat Inc., a Long Beach, Calif., firm that specializes in risk assessment and management. Under the direction of principal investigators Sharad Mehrotra (UCI) and Ramesh Rao (UCSD), ResCUE’s goal is to use emerging technology to assist crisis responders in the collection, analysis, sharing and dissemination of information. By streamlining these processes, responding organizations can reduce the resulting number of deaths and injuries, contain or prevent secondary disasters, and reduce resulting economic losses and social disruptions. “Getting the right information to the right person at the right time can result in dramatically better response,” says Mehrotra.

The project must take into account many challenges, including diversity of data, privacy concerns, lack of centralized control and inherent panic. Researchers from social science, engineering, data analysis and management, and networking and distributed systems are working together under the auspices of Calit2 to address these issues.

Freeman and ResCUE student researchers view the
tsunami disaster situational
awareness demonstration.

First stop for Freeman was a meeting with lead investigators, including Mehrotra, professor of computer science systems, and Rao, Calit2 UCSD division director and professor of electrical and computer engineering. Co-investigators Nalini Venkatasubramanian, UCI associate professor of computer science systems, and Carter Butts, UCI assistant professor of sociology, also participated. After taking part in a comprehensive project overview and asking questions of investigators, Freeman viewed several project demonstrations and related posters.

Graduate student researcher Mahesh Datt demonstrated a video surveillance data-collection system that can be used in pervasive environments, otherwise known as smart spaces. These spaces have various sensors embedded in them, including radio-frequency identification (RFID) systems, motion detectors, acoustic sensors and video cameras; these systems can collect data while protecting the privacy of authorized persons by obscuring their identities. Each individual’s access control is based on the RFID tags they carry; the identities of authorized individuals are masked in the video by the system.

Freeman then viewed a demonstration presented by researcher Yiming Ma of a system that potentially can be used in large-scale disasters like the recent Indian Ocean tsunami. The system displayed media responses to the disaster, including coverage of secondary events generated by the tsunami. By tracking key words used in media reports, analysts can follow the progress of damage assessment, rescue efforts and the influx of aid.

Chris Davison, UCI Project ResCUE staff member (left),
views a poster with Peter Freeman and Sharad Mehrotra.

The next demo, presented by doctoral candidate Vidhya Balasubramanian, displayed methods for adapting information for cognitive-, perceptual- and motor-disabled users. Modifying emergency information for citizens with hearing impairments, for example, increases its effectiveness during a crisis situation such as an evacuation. This technology also can be used in an educational setting, to assist disabled students.

The last demonstration, presented by UCSD researcher Ganz Chockalingam, showed a large-scale multi-modal emergency notification system, whereby crisis responders, aided by cell phones equipped with cameras and GPS, can deliver real-time emergency information to a mobile command and control center. The control center agents can browse events in both voice and text formats and also instantly dispatch commands to a group of agents simultaneously. By enlisting the aid of responders outside of an emergency area, the technology enables responders within the affected area to make better use their own time and expertise.

Freeman appeared pleased by the work in progress. He asked several questions of each of the presenters and praised each of their demonstrations. Freeman, who has been assistant director for NSF’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering directorate (CISE) since 2002, was previously professor and founding dean of the College of Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology. Prior to that, he served on the faculty at UCI’s Department of Information and Computer Science for 20 years. He has authored and/or edited numerous books and technical articles, and has served on several editorial boards and as an active consultant to industry, academia and government.