By: Diane Stirling
(315) 443-8975

Technology improving interoperability of public emergency response communication devices with each other—and with cell phones, CB radios and walkie-talkies—is continuing development this summer, providing a testing ground for planners and experiential learning for School of Information Studies students.

Hardware and software under development at the iSchool, Virginia Tech and the Rochester Institute of Technology is designed to maintain communication between emergency responder devices—even if cell towers and Internet networks go down during a natural or manmade disaster. iSchool students will be evaluating whether this expanded communication capability to engage with citizens and other stakeholders at an emergency or disaster incident is beneficial.

The technologies, called iDAWG (Intelligent Deployable Augmented Wireless Gateway), work with a new type of software application, called edgeware. The edgeware application to be tested is called “Gridstream X.” Both initiatives have been developed in the Wireless Grid Innovation Testbed (WiGiT) at the iSchool. Through WiGiT-developed cognitive radio interfaces and the abilities of the “Gridstream X” software, iDAWG is intended to integrate with the Federal Emergency Management Association’s (FEMA) Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS). IPAWS is the communication system used by most police and fire agencies and emergency management responders.

According to iSchool Professor Lee McKnight, part of the program’s research aspects this summer includes observation of a full-scale, multi-agency emergency exercise. The iSchool has arranged for 25 of its students to participate as observers in an on-the-ground crisis incident exercise involving 44 agencies in Madison, Onondaga, and Oswego counties. The inter-agency drill also will help assure that the responders meet communication and response standards for policies and training in accordance with guidelines for local and state emergency response, plus federal FEMA and Homeland Security standards.

The iDAWG initiative is proceeding with funding from the National Science Foundation Partnerships for Innovation. The three schools’ current efforts also involve creation of a next-generation secure resilient serverless transmission network, which integrates cognitive radio for crisis response using wireless grids.

The iSchool has been involved in research work on wireless grid technology since 2002, a track record that puts Syracuse University and Virginia Tech at “the center of research on wireless grids edgeware and cognitive radios, with a decade of experience in the field, which no one else can claim,” McKnight observed.

Additional work is underway with the Rochester Institute of Technology on more information-gathering that would include aerial recording and transmission of visual incident information, according to McKnight. This is the Advanced Situational Awareness System (ASAS), a project of the iSchool and Rochester Institute of Technology’s Information Products Laboratory for Emergency Response (IPLER).

The crisis incident exercise is providing a range of educational experiences for iSchoolers, from undergraduate and master’s students to executive Ph.D. and doctoral graduate program professionals.

Senior Joshua Foust will be recording response aspects in photo and video formats on location during the training exercise. Graduate students will also be positioned in the WiGiT lab in Hinds Hall to observe and record occurrences and responses to iDAWG. Several iSchool doctoral students are using the exercise as a component in their thesis projects on outcomes. For example, Joseph Treglia’s thesis examines information sharing among the participating agencies and also gauges community engagement and participation. Dale Meyerrose, who will be on site during the exercise to serve in a media coordinating capacity, is assessing wireless grid applications in the medical field. Robert Hartling is researching the potential of improved communication through iDAWGs in making crisis situations more manageable. Tyson Brooks is studying how the wireless grid works in a cloud security environment, according to McKnight.  

Also involved in and staying informed about the weekend exercise will be funders and potential business and information technology partners, McKnight noted. He said that VRC, a SU Wireless Grid Lab funding source, is sending CEO Roberto Montoya to visit during the exercise. National Instruments is contributing cognitive radios for the drill. Wireless Grids Corporation is the maker of the Gridstream X software, which was founded by McKnight in 2004.

Academic articles and assessments will be produced after the exercise and will be presented in scholarly journals and discussed in forums. That includes the Enterprise Cloud Leadership Council annual conference, where WiGiT version 0.2 specs are planned for demonstration, McKnight noted.