Bloomington Fire Chief Jason Moore met with students at the showcase.
Using technology to solve real-world problems sits at the heart of informatics at the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, and some of those solutions were on display at the First Responder Technology Innovation Expo Dec. 5 at the Indiana Memorial Union.
Students from Associate Professor David Wild’s Informatics in Disasters and Emergency Response class held a public presentation of their projects in the Georgian Room of the IMU, efforts which were designed to train students in the constraints and opportunities in the fields of crisis and disaster response. Students were tasked with designing technology that could save lives and help first responders, such as police and fire fighters, respond to emergencies.
“I’m impressed that the students came up with projects that could really help people,” Wild said, “There are people and organizations who are really interested in the outcomes of the projects and how they can use that in real-world applications.”
During the course of the class, students were provided insight from actual firefighters and emergency managers to explain some of the limitations and constraints, both budgetary and practical, which can hinder the development of some of the ideas.
“For instance, if you’re a firefighter and you’re supposed to use a cell phone, it doesn’t work well if you’re wearing big gloves or in an area surrounded by smoke,” Wild said. “Those are the kinds of constraints that have to be overcome, and the students did a great job of thinking of innovative ways to get past some of those issues.
Bloomington Fire Chief Jason Moore was on hand to look at the projects and give some suggestions to the students.
“We like fostering innovation not only in our own department, but also from the students,” Moore said. “Me, personally, I get a lot out of just seeing the different ideas that have come out. But I’m also a dreamer. How do we leverage technology to make life better? Events like this are awesome, and I love interacting with students and seeing their heart and soul poured into their work.”
Projects ranged from technology that could help alert and pinpoint gunshots in the event of a school shooting to creating interactive floor plans of IU buildings for the use of first responders to a chip scanning application to ease the identification of lost pets in an emergency. One group designed a board game to train students, teachers, and administrators about different ways to respond to a school shooting, and another showed how establishing a mesh network of devices—devices that connect to each other directly and self-organize to allow dynamic distribution of workloads even if one fails—could allow communication should the cell phone system be lost in a disaster.
“We could cover the entire campus with four of these devices,” said senior Will Thompson. “It allows you to create a Bloomington network that can never go down, and you can pair your cell phone with one of these devices via Bluetooth that will allow people to communicate with one another in times of an emergency.”
The network, which uses commercially available devices called goTennas, essentially creates a backup for cell and internet service.
“We had a couple of emergency response people talk to the class, and they noted that redundancy is something that is valued in emergency response,” Thompson said. “There should always be a backup for the backup, and this is more of a proof of concept than anything else for a system that could really work.”
The gunshot detection system uses audio sensors placed every 5-8 feet in a school hallway to locate gunshots and recognize what type of weapon was used—either semi or fully automatic. That information can help both responders and school administrators react to a potentially dangerous situation.
Anna Bilello, a junior, worked on the gunshot detection system project and saw the frustration in the struggle between the concept of solutions and making them a reality.
“I learned that budget is a huge limitation,” Bilello said. “We might have the technology, but implementing them can become difficult, and it’s important to find ways to lower the cost to allow these systems to become more common.”
One group blended artificial intelligence with a decidedly low-tech idea that could help in an emergency.
The ALiCE Exercise is a board game that both removes some of the trauma that comes with active shooter training while also being more affordable.
“There’s some controversy whether parents want their kids subjected to exercises where they think they’re in an active shooter event,” said John Byszewski, a junior studying informatics. “This is meant to be done with ALiCE-- Alert, Lock Down, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate—training to teach the concepts of how to react.”
The group used artificial intelligence to create “movement” cards mimic the possible movement of a fictional shooter in a school, and a roll of a die informs the trainee of outcomes and what their movements in response to those outcomes should be.
“We’re not making movements for the shooter,” said Christian Schneider, a senior. “The AI makes those decisions in advance, so it’s random movements. And you can only do certain actions based on your proximity to the shooter, so if you’re close enough where you can do a lockdown of your classroom, you can roll the dice to see if you’re successful doing that. Then, if you are, you try to get far enough away to evacuate your classroom.”
Blending the high- and low-tech methods allowed the group to think about the solution in a different way.
“As an informatics major, we’re hammered with tech, which is important,” said senior Henry Leitz. “But there are solutions out there that don’t need to be complicated by tech or require an app. You can do something like this and create an affordable method for training that is easily understandable, and it is initially developed with the help of technology.”
Wild hopes the class and the projects could open the eyes of his students to a new path.
“I hope that for some of them, it will lead to a career in this field,” Wild said. “But for all of them, I hope they understand that things go wrong, and for the people whose job it is to help when things go wrong, they need a lot of assistance, and technology can really help them. This is really a great use of technology.”