ISCRAM will explore information technologies in emergency response May 18 to 21

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Global thought leaders on crisis response and management will converge at Penn State from May 18 to 21 for the International Conference on Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM), hosted by the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST).

In its 11th year, ISCRAM is “the premiere gathering place for scholars, responders, practitioners and policy makers seeking to understand the role of information technologies in emergency response,” said Andrea Tapia, associate professor of IST and conference chairwoman of the event.

The common thread among conference attendees is a desire to improve crisis response at the local level. “The goals of participants are at once to use technologies to build communities more resilient to disasters and to build response systems that save more lives. At this conference, we focus on building systems for the local responder, the first responder and for community participation,” said Tapia.

Penn State brings a wealth of resources to the field of crisis response, including cultivating the next generation of crisis informatics leaders through its bachelor of science degree program in security and risk analysis, offered by the College of IST. The University also is home to the GeoVISTA Center, which coordinates integrated research in Geographic Information Science (GIScience) with an emphasis on geovisualization and IST’s Extreme Events Lab, which supports research in the areas of hard and soft data fusion, visualization and sonification.

Through these initiatives, Penn State strives to develop more sophisticated and more successful techniques and practices to manage crisis and disaster, said Patrick Shih, IST research associate and ISCRAM program co-chair.

“People have this idea about technology that we have conquered the world — we aren’t there yet,” he said.

According to Shih, social media is an important consideration when studying disaster response, and there are problems inherent in both utilizing social media and choosing to ignore it. For example, he said, law enforcement officials can be skeptical of the accuracy and usefulness of social media.

It is this issue where scholars such as Leysia Palen, keynote speaker for the conference, come to the forefront of the discussion. Palen’s research is focused on crisis informatics; she has training in human-computer interaction (HCI), computer-supported cooperative work and social computing, all of which shed light on socio-technical issues impacting the world today.

With more than 70 articles to her name, and having co-edited a book examining human computer interaction, computer supported cooperative work and crisis informatics, Palen has been awarded multiple National Science Foundation (NSF) grants, including an NSF CAREER award in 2006.

Joining Palen are ISCRAM 2014 keynote speakers Edward G. Happ, CIO of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), based in Geneva, Switzerland, and Patrick Meier, director of innovation at the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI).

In addition to his role with the IFRC, Happ also serves as the chairman of NetHope, a U.S.-based group of 41 leading international relief, development and conservation nonprofits that focus on information and communications technology and collaboration. Happ is also the former CIO at Save the Children, in Westport, Conn.

Prior to QCRI, Meier co-founded and co-directed the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative’s (HHI) Program on Crisis Mapping & Early Warning. He served as director of crisis mapping at Ushahidi and co-founded CrisisMappers, Digital Humanitarians and the Standby Task Force.

Volunteers are still being sought to help with the logistics of the conference; contact Patrick Shih at patshih@psu.edu for information if you are interested.

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Last Updated May 19, 2014