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Decision-Support Tool Aims to Enhance Information Sharing

The California Earthquake Clearinghouse is testing new middleware that would create a virtual network to make knowledge sharing and response more effective.

The California Earthquake Clearinghouse, a voluntary group designed to share knowledge among the scientific and engineering communities after an earthquake, is testing a new middleware that would create a virtual network to make knowledge sharing and response more effective.

The middleware, Unified Incident Command and Decision Support (UICDS), was developed through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate. It allows an organization at no cost to create a specialized application of how its members want to view and use data at the front end, while simultaneously translating that data into common national and international standard formats for any agency, including emergency responders, to use during an incident.

Through UICDS, the clearinghouse uses a map that shows the user where he or she is in relation to buildings that have been destroyed, models to anticipate where there could be potential damage, directions for how to get there and updated incident reports.

Within minutes, an engineer can be reporting on structural damage, the possibility of landslide and how to rebuild a stronger building, said James Morentz, a homeland security technology consultant and UCIDS outreach director.

“It’s very good for the people to whom emergency response is happening because they have a consistent, unified set of decisions no matter if it’s a local fire department or FEMA; they’re sharing the same information,” Morentz said.

The clearinghouse — a consortium of the California Geological Survey, California Office of Emergency Services, California Seismic Safety Commission, Earthquake Engineering Research Institute and U.S. Geological Survey — decided to implement the technology after the California emergency management agency brought it to attention in 2011.

Part of the appeal is that each member agency can design a UICDS layout that best suits its own needs.

In May, the clearinghouse completed the third of six planned UICDS tests, which are conducted during California’s annual Golden Guardian exercise and ShakeOut earthquake drill. The tests are set to wrap up in 2014 and will help all involved agencies figure out what applications they want to use and what needs to be included in the agency-to-agency sharing agreements.

Using simulated data from the drills, clearinghouse members that chose to be involved tested various information sharing functions to see what works best and what could be streamlined. The implementation process is stretched over three years.

The mobile application SpotOnResponse gives clearinghouse members a sense of what’s happening before they step out the door — where the damage is and where each member’s talents can be most useful. History of the structure, information about a building’s site plan, plus any pictures of the damage can be shared and discussed immediately.

Experts from different fields can also weigh in on potential toxic hazards, structural issues, liquefaction zones and any other helpful information.

Toward the end of the summer, the source code will be turned into an open source product, said Morentz. Currently, the UICDS team is focusing on getting the commercial marketplace’s attention, he said.

The technology can be useful in most situations where two agencies don’t work together, but need to share information, he said. For example, if companies are reporting employees not showing up to work — the first indicator of a potential epidemic — those companies can connect their data through UICDS and come to any realizations much quicker.

“I believe the application of this is going to continue to expand,” said Morentz.

Lauren Katims previously served as a staff writer and contributing writer for Government Technology magazine.