New U.S.-Japan collaborations bring Big Data approaches to disaster response

When disaster strikes, it is critical that experts, decision makers and emergency personnel have access to real-time information in order to assess the situation and respond appropriately.

It is equally critical that individuals and organizations have the capacity to analyze the wealth of data generated in the midst of the disaster and its immediate aftermath in order to produce accurate, customized warnings, particularly with the increasing ubiquity of smartphones, mobile apps and social media platforms.

Rapid advances in information technology are providing new opportunities to improve disaster management. For example, new computer systems and networks–from sensor networks to smartphones and cyber-physical systems–are giving rise to powerful data streams that have the potential to facilitate timely and effective action during disasters.

At the same time, dependence upon these systems requires considered resilience and responsiveness during disasters so as to ensure that real-time data analytics continues seamlessly in the face of disasters.

To assist in future disasters, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Japan Science and Technology Agency(JST) have embarked upon a joint funding program to support research that leverages Big Data and data analytics to transform disaster management for individuals and for society at-large.

Today, the agencies announced awards for six joint US-Japan research projects that aim to address two specific challenges in disaster management: capturing and processing data associated with disasters and improving the resilience and responsiveness of emerging computer systems and networks in the face of disasters to facilitate real-time data analytics in their aftermath.

“We’re proud to collaborate with JST to address the global need for Big Data and data analysis for disaster management,” said Jim Kurose, head of NSF’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate. “Collaborative programs such as this one bring diverse perspectives and expertise to bear in mutually synergistic ways on critical problems that impact all of society. These are challenges that no single country can address in isolation.”

Several recent reports have suggested that Big Data and data analysis for disaster management will require new approaches to analyze large, noisy and heterogeneous data in order to facilitate timely decision-making in the face of shifting demands. Advanced methods are required that can address the algorithmic and data complexity of distributed systems in real-time and the challenges that arise in modeling chaotic systems.

In addition, these reports have noted that novel approaches are needed to ensure that information technology systems support resilient and timely data capture and integration in the face of infrastructure disruptions.

Each of the NSF/JST-funded projects includes one team from the United States and one from Japan. In some cases, the teams have many years of experience working together. In others, the awards will catalyze new collaborations. NSF’s awards support the U.S. researchers on each team and total $1.8 million over three years.

The US-Japan Big Data and Disaster Research projects are:

Human-Centered Situation Awareness Platform for Disaster Response and Recovery
Researchers at the University of Southern California and the National Institute of Informatics in Japan will collaboratively design a computer platform that decision makers can use during disasters to analyze incoming data and coordinate responses.

Data-Driven Critical Information Exchange in Disaster-Affected Public-Private Networks
Florida International University and University of Tokyo researchers will design context-aware and user-specific information delivery systems that could be deployed during disasters to supply accurate information to citizens.

Efficient and Scalable Collection, Analytics and Processing of Big Data for Disaster Applications
Researchers from the Missouri University of Science and Technology and Osaka University in Japan will collaborate to develop new methods to compress, transmit and query data from sensor networks.

Disaster Preparation and Response via Big Data Analysis and Robust Networking
Working together, researchers from Arizona State University and Japan’s National Institute of Information will explore resilient networks, social media mining and information dissemination during disasters.

A Big Data Computational Laboratory for the Optimization of Olfactory Search Algorithms in Turbulent Environments
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Tokyo will collaborate on the development of new olfactory search algorithms that use sensors to identify sources of pollutants or other agents released in the air or sea.

Dynamic Evolution of Smartphone-Based Emergency Communications Networks
Researchers from Temple University and the University of Aizu in Japan will collaborate to design smartphone-based ad hoc emergency networks that can evolve as a disaster unfolds.

The US-Japan Big Data and Disaster program continues and extends the strategic international collaborations supported by NSF. In computing, information technology and engineering research alone, has active partnerships with Finland, Germany, Israel, France and Sweden in addition to Japan and NSF to advance emerging technologies.

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