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Information fusion research simulates disasters to manage emergency response

"Using our software, we create realistic simulations of earthquakes in the San Fernando Valley of differing characteristics, such as the depth of the quake, the location of the epicenter and its proximity to population centers," explained Scott. "Based on those parameters, the simulation determines the number of casualties created as an immediate consequence of the primary shake and their geographical distribution."

The computer program also simulates and "fuses" reports typically received by observers such as policemen and civilians, who may be providing redundant or contradictory information.

"Our simulation takes these reports and assigns probabilities of error and uncertainty to the information they contain based on known reliability data and then fuses the information into a unified, coherent 'situation assessment' to help emergency responders and decision-makers make the best, most timely decisions that they can," Scott said.

One of the critical goals of the project and one that is a chief concern for the Air Force, he added, is discovery, in the midst of a primary incident, of an unpredicted and unexpected secondary event that can occur as a result of the initial disaster.

"Psychological testing shows that a responder can too quickly lock into the idea, 'OK, I'm responding to trauma casualties caused by an earthquake,' and it's difficult for them to then consider other issues," he said.

In the recent tsunami, he said, those secondary incidents might include ruptured gas mains, environmental contamination or widespread cholera. After an earthquake, the collapse of a highway bridge might cause a tanker truck full of chlorine to fall and rupture, spreading a toxic plume and causing a spike in respiratory casualties.

According to Scott, the information fusion process begins linking reports and considering secondary causes, as soon as the first two reports of casualties or damag
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Contact: Ellen Goldbaum
goldbaum@buffalo.edu
716-645-5000 x1415
University at Buffalo
12-Jan-2005


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