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FIU, Partnering with Community and Industry to Ease Disaster Impact

February 25, 2013


With each catastrophic disaster event, such as hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires, our nation suffers unacceptable levels of human and economic losses. The Hurricane Sandy 50+ billion-dollar aid package the US legislature passed in 2013 dwarfs previous disaster aid given to states for extreme events such as Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Andrew. The need to effectively deal with these recurring natural hazards given financial position our nation has lead to an increasing interest by government, businesses and disaster management professionals to seek solutions that leverage each others capabilities, resources, and information to effectively prepare, respond and recover to such extreme events.

In response to this need, the Disaster Information Technologies Research Group (DITRG) at Florida International University has taken on a key role in the State of Florida as a competency center for the application of technology to address information needs in the time of disaster.  The mission of DITRG is to create new models and frameworks to manage disaster information relevant to all phases of disaster management: preparation, response, recovery and mitigation. This holistic approach addresses a key research goal of delivering techniques and methods capable of transforming the quality, timeliness and availability of critical information needed for decision makers and professionals who respond to on-going natural or man-made disasters. A key goal of the group is to integrate disaster domain specific knowledge and processes with the best practices in computer science methodologies and techniques to create unique training opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students.

In collaboration with the Visual Analytics for Command, Control, and Interoperability Environments (VACCINE) group and the Miami-Dade County Department of Emergency Management, DITRG has produced a tool known as the Multimedia Aided Disaster Information Integration System (MADIS). This tool, which has been successfully demoed during VACCINE Annual Meetings as well as through several disaster training scenarios, makes it easier for emergency managers to gather relevant information by automatically linking situation reports directly to imagery obtained and uploaded by responders and the public.

In order to facilitate the intake of information regarding damage caused by a disaster, DITRG has created the Coordinated Damage Assessment Application, an easy to use application available through web browsers or as a download for iOS and Android devices. This tool created in collaboration with the Miami-Dade County Emergency Operation Center allows users to submit information regarding damage to their properties with a minimal amount of actions, by simply selecting photographs that are representative of the damage sustained and, optionally, a photograph of the property itself. While this application was designed specifically for Miami-Dade and bordering counties, it is highly extensible may well be extended to support counties across the nation.

It has been shown through several studies that when a business remains closed because of a disaster for even a relatively short period of time, there is a high likelihood of failure of that business. With this serious economic motivation in mind, the DITRG with the collaboration local Emergency Management Departments and many local businesses have created Business Continuity Information Network (BCIN), a web-based tool that is used to report and disseminate highly actionable information among many organizations quickly to allow for much faster recovery in the wake of a disaster. This tool has been used successfully in numerous training exercises involving emergency management personnel and representatives from industry to simulate preparation for, and recovery from natural disasters.

Citizen preparation for disaster is critical for community resilience. To that end, Miami-Dade, and neighboring counties have partnered with DITRG to create the Ready South Florida website, a part of the initiative.  DITRG has worked closely with the Miami-Dade Department of Emergency Management to deliver a custom-tailored website that provides information local residents useful information to prepare for major disaster events.

Through its partners with local agencies and businesses, the Disaster Information Technologies Research Group has been able to provide these tools to help the local community deal with the effects of large-scale disasters. In addition to these, several other ongoing projects also have the potential to help the community prepare for, respond to, and recover from these events as they become more common. This type of industry collaboration and support is invaluable as without it, the development of such tools and technologies would not have been possible.


For further information regarding the Disaster Information Technologies Research Group at FIU or any of its ongoing research projects and initiatives, please contact Dr. Shu-Ching Chen at or (305) 348-3480, or Steven Luis at or (305) 348-6215.


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