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IEEE honors disaster response system developers

Innovation in Societal Infrastructure Award recognizes Lincoln Laboratory researchers who created a system that gives first responders the big picture.
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The recipients of the 2019 IEEE Innovation in Societal Infrastructure Award are (l-r) Andy Vidan, Gregory Hogan, and Paul Breimyer. They are being honored for their development of an integrated decision support system for coordinating disaster response activities.
The recipients of the 2019 IEEE Innovation in Societal Infrastructure Award are (l-r) Andy Vidan, Gregory Hogan, and Paul Breimyer. They are being honored for their development of an integrated decision support system for coordinating disaster response activities.
Photo: Nicole Fandel

Gregory Hogan, Paul Breimyer, and Andy Vidan have been named the 2019 recipients of the IEEE's Innovation in Societal Infrastructure Award, which recognizes individuals whose work on efficient infrastructure systems demonstrates an innovative application of information technology and has potential to make a substantial impact on society.

Hogan, Breimyer, and Vidan were selected for their lead roles in Lincoln Laboratory's development and promotion of the Next-Generation Incident Command System (NICS), a distributed system that facilitates emergency responses and disaster recovery.

"The development of the Next-Generation Incident Command System is of critical importance for enabling timely sharing of information and effective coordination and command of thousands of responders from hundreds of agencies during rapidly evolving, catastrophic events," says Professor Ling Liu of Georgia Tech, chair of the award committee. "Such R&D efforts will translate effectively to saving lives, reducing loss of resources, and protecting our social, economic, and physical environments. This is exactly the type of innovation and leadership that the IEEE Innovation in Societal Infrastructure award committee is set to recognize and promote."

Hogan, the associate leader of Lincoln Laboratory's Advanced Sensors and Techniques Group, called it "unexpected and humbling" to hear that the team had been selected for the award.

"It has been a tremendous experience to work with Paul and Andy on an R&D project that has had such a significant impact on the disaster response community," Hogan says. "NICS has been adopted state-wide by California and by Victoria, Australia, as operational systems supporting many thousands of first responders, law enforcement officials, and other governmental agencies. Now, in partnership with NATO, we are adapting the system for multinational use."

Hogan, Breimyer, and Vidan began exploring how the laboratory's expertise in sensors, information extraction, and data analysis could improve responses to disasters back in 2009. As a first step, they had to understand the problems and demands encountered by first responders. Working with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), which annually responds to several catastrophic, large-scale wildfires, they developed a picture of the common challenges emergency responders face. They identified two major challenges: obtaining accurate, updated, comprehensive situational awareness of the disaster, and communicating that information to a widespread, often multiagency, cadre of responders.

Hogan, Breimyer, and Vidan spent five years developing, building, field testing, and promoting a distributed, internet-based, collaborative information system that integrates data from multiple sources — for example, responders on the ground, airborne imaging sensors, weather and traffic reports, and maps — into a real-time, cohesive picture of how a disaster is unfolding. Developed through an iterative design/implementation process, NICS has undergone upgrades as communication and visualization technologies have advanced. The Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate (DHS S&T) has sponsored the continual evolution of NICS since 2010.

NICS has been used in national and international disaster responses, and its architecture has been made available on the internet for registered users. It has been deployed to hundreds of incidents, ranging from wildfires to mudslides to floods. More than 570 organizations in 40 U.S. states and five foreign countries have used NICS to improve their responses to natural and human-made disasters. In 2014, the Emergency Management Directorate of Australia's largest state, Victoria, began implementing NICS' open platform architecture into its emergency management system, and the directorate continues to share software updates with the NICS community.

"We were fortunate to have the support and resources from across Lincoln Laboratory, the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, CAL FIRE, Emergency Management Victoria, and the first responder community to design, prototype, implement, field test, and, most importantly, operationalize an advanced, fault-tolerant, and scalable distributed system for humanitarian assistance and disaster response," says Vidan, a former Lincoln Laboratory associate technology officer who is now the chief executive officer of Composable Analytics, a Lincoln Laboratory spinoff software company.

In September 2017, about 1,300 disaster responders from 34 NATO countries participated in a simulated emergency response in which NICS was used to provide real-time situational awareness. This exercise, held in in Bosnia and Herzegovina, showcased NICS's capabilities to a multinational disaster response community. Lincoln Laboratory and DHS S&T are already involved in a collaboration with NATO to implement NICS in southeastern European nations. During a four-year partnership, the laboratory will work with local and federal response agencies in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, and Montenegro to adapt NICS for their specific needs.

Breimyer says he is "honored and humbled" by the award.

"I'd like to thank IEEE, Lincoln Laboratory, DHS S&T, and the hundreds of participating organizations in the first responder community," says Breimyer, a former technical staff member at the laboratory and now the director of software engineering at Audible Inc. "I feel incredibly fortunate to have partnered with Gregg and Andy, as well as the countless visionary first responders whose dedication to improving emergency response inspires us all."

IEEE will present the awards to the three recipients at the 2019 IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy, which will be held May 20-22 in San Francisco.

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