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August 23, 2012
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Doug Page Homeland Technology
with Doug Page

New tool allows disaster modeling and simulation systems to share data

System gives disaster managers more realistic data on what to expect during disasters

First responders participating in disaster exercises usually have to rely on disaster modeling and simulation to imagine how something like a damaged building might look following an earthquake or terror bombing.

Incompatibilities between modeling and simulation systems, however, can make interagency data-sharing and coordination difficult. The Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have been designing models and simulations for disaster planning for years, but these systems don't talk to each other or share information.

A new software tool called SUMMIT (short for Standard Unified Modeling, Mapping and Integration Toolkit) by its developers at Sandia National Laboratories might change that. SUMMIT allows disaster models generated by different systems to work together for the first time, giving disaster planners and responders more realistic ideas of what to expect during disasters.

"SUMMIT enables the emergency preparedness community to easily access and share science-based information that can be used to improve pre-event planning, training, exercises, evaluation and improvement across a wide variety of disaster scenarios, such as earthquake, bioterrorism or chemical threats," said Lynn Yang, a Sandia Livermore systems analyst.

In addition to enhancing the effectiveness of preparedness activities, Yang said SUMMIT also reduces the time and cost needed to train for, analyze and respond to disasters.

Disaster planners usually rely on fictional scenarios, so experts meet to plot responses to invented disasters. While this might work for isolated events, the data is not reusable, because the simulation used in one regional exercise doesn’t apply to other regions. SUMMIT is meant to address this deficiency by allowing data from one exercise to be quickly ported to another.

Say a model of an explosion in a chemical plant is created for a local exercise. SUMMIT can take the model and data from that drill and reuse it in other exercises in other states.

Yang told PoliceOne that output from the SUMMIT tool can be used in several ways, including mobile media. "For example," she said, "an iPad app has been developed for SUMMIT that enables first responders in the field to visualize models of building damage, based on realistic damage calculations, and other post-event disaster effects during an exercise."

The developers say the broader goal is to make SUMMIT a pervasive part of preparedness and response for emergency managers, responders and exercise teams on local, state and federal levels.

SUMMIT is currently a beta service of the FEMA National Exercise and Simulation Center. First responders can request further information on using SUMMIT and NESC modeling and simulation services via the SUMMIT website.

About the author

Since leaving a withering aerospace engineering career in 1994, Doug Page has been writing about technology, medicine, and marriage peril from the Panic Room in Pine Mountain, Calif. He won a 2006 Tabby Award for a story titled "Life in a Disaster Morgue" that appeared in the January 2006 issue of Forensic Magazine. Page is also a former contributing editor for Homeland Protection Professional and Science Spectra magazines. Contact Doug Page.

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