International conference will address role of technology in disaster response

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- In recent years, natural and manmade disasters, such as Super Typhoon Haiyan and the Boston Marathon bombing, have increased public awareness of the role of technology in disaster response and crisis management. To address those issues, Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) and the GeoVISTA Center will be hosting an international conference this spring that will bring together leading experts and researchers who are dedicated to improving disaster response across the globe.

“The conference will bring together academics and practitioners, emergency responders and government policy makers around topics in emergency response,” said Andrea Tapia, an associate professor in the College of IST and the organizer of the conference. “It will also showcase the excellent research being done at Penn State in this area.”

The 11th annual Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM) Conference will be held May 18 to 21 at the College of IST. ISCRAM is an international community that promotes research and development, exchange of knowledge and deployment of information systems in the field of crisis management. The theme for ISCRAM 2014 is empowering citizens and communities through information systems for crisis response and management. The discussions and presentations will focus on the local community, the individual and the technologies that can be employed to improve crisis response at the local level. ISCRAM 2014 will reframe information systems for emergency response as socially-distributed information systems, in which information is disseminated within and between official and public channels and entities.

The conference, which is expected to draw about 300 attendees, will feature three keynote speakers: Edward G. Happ, CIO of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), based in Geneva, and chairman of NetHope, a U.S.-based consortium of 39 leading international relief, development and conservation nonprofits focused on information and communications technology (ICT) and collaboration; Patrick Meier, director of innovation at the Qatar Computing research Institute (QCRI); and Leysia Palen, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Colorado Boulder and a faculty fellow with the ATLAS Institute and the Institute of Cognitive Science.

In addition to the keynote speakers, expert panelists will address the following topics: “Super Typhoon Haiyan: the Information Management Disaster?” “Crowdsourcing Crisis Response: The Boston Marathon Bombing,” “Doing IT Right: Ethical, Legal and Social Issues of IT Supported Emergency Reponse," and “Creating a Common Operational Picture with the Cloud.”

Among Tapia’s research efforts is the Coordination of Humanitarian Organizations in Relief Using Technology (COHORT) project, an academic research program that seeks to understand the issues that humanitarian organizations face in their coordination efforts, particularly in the domain of information and communication technologies. Another project Tapia works with is Enhanced Messaging for the Emergency Response Sector (EMERSE), which categorizes tweets and texts from disaster sites into data NGOs can use to aid victims.

About a year-and-a-half ago, Tapia said, she put in a bid for the ISCRAM Conference to be held at Penn State. She thought that the College of IST and the GeoVISTA Center were a good fit for the conference, she added, in part due to overlapping interests between ISCRAM, the college and the center.

“A big reason why we were successful (in landing the conference) is that we have a lot of researchers and students who do crisis-related research,” she said.

In recent years, Tapia said, technology has changed the way that the world responds to crisis. Social media has been useful in emergency situations in “citizen-to-citizen communication.” Public information departments also use social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to spread the word about resources and services, and Twitter has become a “broadcast medium for the citizens” in times of political turmoil or war.

For more information about ISCRAM 2014, visit http://iscram2014.ist.psu.edu. To learn more about the ISCRAM organization, visit http://www.iscramlive.org.

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Last Updated January 30, 2014