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PROTECTING OUR CITIES. The lab was recently awarded more than $650,000 in federal grant money to build tools and develop methods for analysis that will help build communities that are more disaster-resilient through the use of historical disaster data.

New IU lab aids crisis and emergency responders

The Crisis Technologies Innovation Lab will use data science and engineering to help humanity survive and recover from hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and other natural disasters

BLOOMINGTON, Ind.—As natural disasters become more frequent and severe, technology plays an ever-increasing role in the tools first responders rely on to do their jobs.

Indiana University has created a lab to help first responders use emerging technologies on the front lines of disasters and emergency response. Known as the Crisis Technologies Innovation Lab (CTIL), the lab is a collaboration between IU’s Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering (SICE) and Pervasive Technology Institute (PTI).

Over the next two decades, our country and the world will face unprecedented challenges from climate change, political turmoil, and dependence on a vulnerable technology infrastructure . . . we will be exploring the technologies that will help us address these challenges and thrive as a society.

David Wild, CITL co-director and associate professor of informatics

Using data science and engineering, CTIL will deliver practical resources and solutions to first responders, and research ways technology can help us prepare for, respond to and recover from hurricanes, wildfires, floods and other disasters.

As an example, the lab is developing innovative visual displays that accept multiple data streams during an incident. Those streams are combined and prioritized using artificial intelligence and machine learning to help emergency managers make more timely and accurate decisions. These displays could be large, such as a video wall in an emergency operations center, or small and mobile, like on a tablet.

“There is an urgent need for approaches to using technology in crises that are reliable, scalable and affordable,” said David Wild, co-director of the CTIL and associate professor of informatics. “They also need to interoperate between emergency professionals and the public, and that can help save lives in a complex, challenging environment.”

CTIL will leverage the technological leadership of Luddy, and Wild’s academic home in the Department of Informatics there. The other two co-directors, Matthew R. Link and Robert Henschel, are leaders in the Research Technologies division of University Information Technology Services. 

Two of the lab's leaders have practical, first-hand experience in emergency situations that will help inform CTIL’s work. Matt Link carries a number of emergency response and firefighting certifications, while David Wild is certified in several areas of emergency medical response.

CTIL itself is affiliated with the Cyberinfrastructure Integration Research Center (CIRC), which specializes in creating computer-based tools and environments to solve practical problems—often involving sensitive or secured information (such as floor plans for private buildings, in the case of emergency response).

“The Pervasive Technology Institute’s strength lies in its ability to bring together a mix of faculty, staff, and student expertise from within the IU community to solve important and time-sensitive problems. The last few years have shown that we face a pressing need to apply new techniques and technologies to better enable effective responses to crises of all sorts,” said Craig Stewart, PTI executive director.

Of the CTIL leadership, Link carries a number of emergency response and firefighting certifications, while Wild is certified in several areas of emergency medical response. Their practical, first-hand experience in emergency situations will help inform CTIL’s work.

CTIL has already conducted substantial preliminary research. The lab was recently awarded more than $650,000 in federal grant money to build tools and develop methods for analysis that will help build communities that are more disaster-resilient through the use of historical disaster data. IU’s upcoming installation of Big Red 200, the nation’s first university-owned supercomputer capable of artificial intelligence, will be essential in supporting CTIL’s mission.

“Over the next two decades, our country and the world will face unprecedented challenges from climate change, political turmoil, and dependence on a vulnerable technology infrastructure,” Wild said. “In the CTIL, we will be exploring the technologies that will help us address these challenges and thrive as a society.”