IST doctoral student applies research in internship to help save lives

Editor’s note: This is the seventh in a series of profiles on College of IST students and alumni who are utilizing the skills and knowledge they developed at Penn State to make an impact in a variety of industries.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Emergency responders have some of the most high-pressured careers in the world today, but social media may be able to reduce that pressure. Shane Halse, a doctoral student in the College of Information Sciences and Technology, is interning with RapidSOS to help test the theory that social media can simplify crisis situations for emergency responders.

RapidSOS is an emergency technology company that builds transformative technology to save lives. To do so, they link connected devices to 911 and first responders. As a member on the product team focusing on research capacity and prototype capacity, Halse is intertwining his doctoral research with his role at RapidSOS.

"My dissertation is very theory heavy, so RapidSOS is helping move to application,” he said. “It's nice to see some theories play out and some not be as effective as first thought. So I like that aspect of it."

Halse's thesis focuses on how social media can be leveraged in crisis response by understanding what the crisis responders want from social media, filtering and applying machine learning algorithms, implementing bot detection, and ultimately applying those methods to present the crisis responders with what they need.

Halse said he has gained deeper insight on integration of theories through the College of IST and by working with RapidSOS.

"We aren't trying to change it, we are trying to help it," said Halse. "We are trying to compliment data that already exists. It will definitely be useful in situations where the traditional method fails.

When Hurricane Harvey devastated the eastern United States, call centers were having immense difficulty processing the thousands of calls for help that came in. Halse says that while still a theory, social media can be a new channel for responders to utilize to save lives in similar situations.

"Those are the kind of things we are interested in finding, the data that can help the first responders better understand the situation or develop better situational awareness," he said.

Further, Halse explained that there are 6 “W’s” that are crucial in crisis response: where, what, why, when, who and weapons. In his research, Halse connects different companies such as Uber, Waze and Twitter to aid in answering these questions for 911 telecommunicators.

"We try and find any data on social media that can fit into one of those categories or support one of those categories, because those are the questions [that] need the most information," he said.

In the College of IST, Halse works under the Local Awareness Management Application (LAMA) lab for his doctoral research. The lab is dedicated to crisis response, and they connect and work with labs in Cincinnati, the University of North Texas, and France.

According to Halse, though crises occur daily around the world, it is not common to find studies conducted on crisis response.

"We like to work with people that follow the same interest and are passionate about the world of crisis research, [which is] very small," he said.

Regarding his research, Halse is not afraid of failure and will continue to test his theories, regardless of the outcome, to make efficient progress in his field.

"Even if it does not succeed it's still a very valuable lesson,” he said. “If the theories don't work, that's fine because just being able to report that is valuable information."

He added, "I can change my approach and try new theories. This is important because I see what works, what doesn’t, and what can be studied further and improved"

For College of IST students pursuing a doctoral degree, Halse advises that they learn what their true interests are as soon as possible. Doing so will lighten their path and give them more clarity into what they want to achieve in school and in the workforce, he said.

"I would say you need to figure out what you're passionate about and then talk to as many professors as you can, then find that one that shares your passion," he concluded.

Media Contacts: 

Jordan Ford

Work Phone: 
814-865-6675

Director of Marketing and Communications, College of Information Sciences and Technology

Last Updated August 02, 2018