NSF awards $12.5M for first responders

The National Science Foundation will award $9 million to the University of California at Irvine, and $3.5 million to the University of California at San Diego, to develop information sharing tools and organizational strategies for first responders, foundation officials announced Sept. 18.

The money will fund a five-year project, "Responding to the Unexpected," that will address how information technology can improve response to crises, including natural disasters. The project will be managed by the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, a science and innovation institute created by UC Irvine and UC San Diego in 2000. The institute provided the seed money for the project.

The award "will create a framework in which a wide range of academic innovations can be brought to the needs of first responders," said Larry Smarr, director of the institute, which is also called Cal-(IT)2.

The funding is the largest NSF research grant in the Irvine campus' history.

The goal of the project is to improve the ability of early responders to act as "human sensors" to gather, manage, use and disseminate information to decision makers to help reduce casualties, economic loss and social disruption, said Sharad Mehrotra, a UC Irvine professor at the School of Information and Computer Science.

"Examples include integrating different information sources, such as satellite images, video and sensor data, with field observations to monitor the situation, retain security and network availability in failure-prone environments ? and leverage community resources to most effectively disseminate information to the public," Mehrotra said.

Mehrotra will lead the project with Ramesh Rao, director of the UC San Diego division of Cal-(IT)2 and a professor of electrical and computer engineering. Their research will be validated in trials with first responders from the Irvine and San Diego police departments, the city of Los Angeles, county of Los Angeles and the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services.

Subcontractors include faculty from the University of Maryland, Brigham Young University, University of Colorado, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and ImageCat Inc., a Long Beach, Calif., firm that specializes in risk assessment and management.

"This project will provide a national-level forum for academic researchers, the first-responder community, and industry to collaborate and develop information infrastructures that reduce the negative impact of disasters," said Ellis Stanley, general manager of the Emergency Preparedness Department for the city of Los Angeles.

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