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Indiana University Builds Free Dashboard for Emergency Managers

When emergencies occur, how do local managers keep track of changing conditions, communications, available resources, and make quick decisions to allocate both resources and   personnel? In many cases, emergency managers are hamstrung by inadequate access to crucial information, like location of fire and police. 

That's why Indiana University faculty, students and staff at IU’s Crisis Technologies Innovation Lab (CTIL) in IU’s Pervasive Technology Institute, working with collaborating partner Disaster Tech, have created a data-science tool to help emergency managers keep their communities safe.

The DICE dashboard (Data-science Integrated Collaboration Environment) helps emergency managers know what resources they have available in a crisis situation. DICE aggregates information on crucial aspects of a community’s infrastructure, including fire, police, and health and medical.

Emergency managers are in charge of making sure that first responders and the public have all the resources they need in disasters, and the current pandemic is no exception. As the crisis becomes increasingly severe, emergency managers need immediate, easily accessible information to effectively respond to calls for assistance.

The tools the lab builds cut down on the time it takes to analyze and act upon an unfolding situation.

Many emergency managers are working with decades-old tools and they often don’t have the means to answer basic questions quickly, such as what’s going on with the incident, how it’s changing and what sort of critical information everyone needs to know, said David Wild, associate professor of informatics at IU and a founding member of CTIL. The lab and its partners were already working on a public dashboard for emergency managers, but COVID-19 sped everything up.

“We did a wide survey of emergency managers,” Wild said. “We had a user experience expert work with survey participants to understand what information, what insights, what data they need to know right now.”

CTIL partnered with Disaster Tech, a company with expertise in data science and curation. DisasterTech brought in Microsoft for its engineers and disaster response expertise, Kinetica for its software and data engineers, and NVIDIA for its graphical processing units (GPUs) to perform high performance computing operations. (Users can sign up for access at Disaster Tech, which also offer free and paid subscription options for a variety of advanced features.)

“With these partners on board, we had all the right resources together to build a really scalable, fast, useful dashboard organized around community lifelines,” Wild said.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a community lifeline “enables the continuous operation of critical government and business functions and is essential to human health and safety or economic security.” They are:

  • Health and medical
  • Communications
  • Transportation
  • Safety and security
  • Energy (power and fuel)
  • Hazardous materials
  • Food, water, and shelter

The DICE dashboard aggregates this crucial information for quicker reactions.

Some of the data the lab and its partners work with are public, such as the locations of hospitals, urgent care clinics, nursing homes, shelters and schools that can be used as temporary hospitals. Some of the data are not public, but useful to emergency responders in a pandemic. And some of the data are proprietary and specific only to a particular community. The dashboard allows emergency managers to upload that data and login securely so only they have access, Wild said.

CTIL has created two other dashboards that can help with COVID-19 response and recovery:

  • The S. Travel Restrictions and Closures dashboard was created in 24 hours. It helped IU administrators track what travel restrictions would be in place for students going home or when leaving their home states to return to campus.
  • The Business Vulnerability Index dashboard was a project CTIL had already begun through a project funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA). This tool, built in partnership with Indiana University’s StatsAmerica, is part of a wider research project to help the EDA understand the relationship between risk, resilience and cost of a disaster in communities across the country.

CTIL’s COVID-19 work is largely done by volunteers. The lab is pursuing potential grant funding and other resources to continue its work on the pandemic. For more information about CTIL, contact Wild.

“From the IU side, there’s a lot of people who’ve essentially donated their time to this effort as a matter of public service,” Liao said. “A lot of people worked evenings and weekends with a goal of advancing this project as quickly and efficiently as possible. The sooner we can put this into an emergency manager’s hands, the more effective we hope they’ll be able to be at their efforts.”