Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Civilian savvy on the ground.
During the height of the Gulf oil spill, when tarballs washed up on the Texas coast and oil defaced Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain, it was difficult for authorities to construct a complete picture of the spill’s effects.
Then Crisis Commons and the SDSU Immersive Visualization Center came along with Oil Reporter, an iPhone and Android cell phone application that allowed anyone to report on the spill.
With Oil Reporter, users uploaded photos from their cell phones, with a time stamp and GPS location attached, to create a real-time map of the oil spill’s spread and its consequences on the coastline.
It was a novel use of the application and quickly became a proof of concept for future endeavors, said Eric Frost, who co-directs the Immersive Visualization Center. “Our efforts are best described as helping train others, helping show proof of concept and providing the starting point for other things,” Frost said.
Funded by more than $5 million in federal and private grants each year, SDSU’s Immersive Visualization Center provides practical assistance for natural disasters, pandemic response and analysis, humanitarian emergencies and homeland and international security. The BP oil rig explosion and subsequent spill is only one of the major crises tackled by the center this year.
Staff members have created maps of earthquake-stricken Haiti and Mexicali, flood-damaged Pakistan and wildfire-ravaged Russia. The maps helped first-responders, governments and volunteers to assess damage and determine the best routes for running supplies.
“The biggest challenge is trying to do all this without resources, so we partner with governments, humanitarian assistance agencies and corporations,” Frost said. “We do this for a couple of reasons—compassion, our desire to practice public service on a global scale and our commitment to developing technology-driven solutions by working on real events. We can train and educate our students far better if we are at the cutting edge, both helping and learning.”