FEATURES & COMMENTARY
Arlington, VA. — A new international collaboration among government agencies, academic research centers, and private sector businesses will look at how cutting-edge information technologies can help member organizations prepare for, respond to, and mitigate disasters, including natural disasters and terrorist attacks involving chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.
The organization, called the Multi-Sector Crisis Management Consortium (MSCMC), began meeting last summer at the Alliance Center for Collaboration, Education, Science and Software (ACCESS) in Arlington, VA. The National Response Center (NRC) leads the consortium and provided its initial financial support. The NRC coordinates federal and state agency responses to national emergencies and disasters. It is the communication center for the National Response Team, a team that spans 16 federal agencies that share responsibility for national environmental safety and security, including preparation, response, and mitigation of emergencies. Other sectors, including an investment banking firm representing 45 companies in 28 countries, have agreed to participate in the consortium and to provide financial support for the next three years.
The MSCMC will hold its monthly meetings and special workshops at ACCESS. In addition, staff from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) – both at ACCESS and at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – will provide technical support in computational science, data mining, computer visualization and advanced multi-dimensional immersive user interfaces. The involvement of NCSA, the leading-edge site for the National Computational Science Alliance (Alliance) will also give the consortium the chance to use the Access Grid and to develop and test advanced applications to support a variety of needs and visions. All the meetings will be offered over the Access Grid, a collaborative virtual workspace that allows group-to-group, real time videoconferencing over the Internet. Alliance partner Argonne National Laboratory leads the Alliance’s Access Grid development efforts.
“This consortium will be collaborating with academia, federal, state and local governments, and the private sector in an effort that crosses sector barriers and eliminates all the artificial lines that normally divide the crisis management and emergency response community,” said Syed Qadir, Director of the National Response Center and the acting chair of the MSCMC. “This organization will nurture a partnership between the public and private sectors that will not only address new ways to plan for, and respond to, crises, but will investigate and recommend how to use cutting-edge technologies to decrease our vulnerability to man-made disasters, including terrorist activities or natural disasters.”
The MSCMC compliments the objectives of the Global Disaster Information Network (GDIN) and seeks to bring advanced research applications and technologies to the forefront in parallel with this national effort. The GDIN is an effort to create a nationwide network that will enable disaster managers, relief workers, and others to systematically and rapidly access information that will help them do their jobs.
Initially, consortium members plan to investigate the several technologies that could benefit the crisis management/emergency response community. These include intelligent sensors, knowledge management and data mining, global information systems (GIS), and multi-dimensional immersive user interface environments with advanced distributed applications. The MSCMC also plans to create a Multi-Sector Crisis Management Research Center to lead research efforts in areas identified by consortium members. The research center will operate as a virtual organization led by researchers at consortium member institutions. These researchers will also focus on developing new applications and technologies that are critical to the development of the GDIN.
Another consortium objective is to develop a universal website that will incorporate collaborative tools, access to distributed computing sites, and other unique services that are currently unavailable to the crisis management community. The website would also serve as a prototype for advanced Web interfaces of the future.
“This consortium can become something that transforms how things are done in our country. Through multi-sector participation the consortium can become a major contributor to global stability, health, and economic development,” said Janet Thot-Thompson, the NCSA assistant director who heads ACCESS and serves as executive director of the consortium.
“The concept for the MSCMC has been incubating for several years, and now that it’s time has come, it promises to bring new insights, vision, and innovation to global crisis management,” said Tom Prudhomme, NCSA’s division director for external programs and director of the MSCMC Research Center. “The technologies that will be developed and deployed by the MSCMC will mean better crisis management techniques that will save lives and resources. In the long run, these same advanced technologies will benefit all society – from healthcare to education to the global economy.”
Organizations that have participated in the consortium and its planning meetings so far are: the National Response Center, U.S. Coast Guard, the American Institute of Architects Research Office, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Federal Emergency Management Agency; U.S. Department of Justice, Science Applications International Corporation, NCSA, the University of Illinois at Chicago, George Washington University, University of Maine, and the State University of New York at Albany. All organizations are welcome to join, but will be expected to pay a fee and/or to contribute other resources, such as technology or expertise.
The National Center for Supercomputing Applications is a leading-edge site for the National Computational Science Alliance. NCSA is a leader in the development and deployment of cutting-edge high-performance computing, networking, and information technologies. The National Science Foundation, the state of Illinois, the University of Illinois, industrial partners, and other federal agencies fund NCSA.
The National Computational Science Alliance is a partnership to prototype an advanced computational infrastructure for the 21st century and includes more than 50 academic, government and industry research partners from across the United States. The Alliance is one of two partnerships funded by the National Science Foundation’s Partnerships for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (PACI) program, and receives cost-sharing at partner institutions. NSF also supports the National Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (NPACI), led by the San Diego Supercomputer Center.