Edited Version September 22, 1999 Transcript
EIIP Tech Arena Online Presentation

Information Technology for the Twenty-first Century"

Bill Turnbull
Deputy Director
NOAA's High Performance Computing and Communications

The original unedited transcript of the September 22, 1999 Tech arena presentation is available in EIIP Virtual Forum Archives <http://www.emforum.org>. The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each input were deleted but the content of questions and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers from the participants to questions by the audience are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.


Amy Sebring: Welcome to the EIIP Tech Arena!

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Background information for today's session may be found at <http://www.emforum.org/varena/990922.htm>.


Today we are pleased to welcome Bill Turnbull, Deputy Director of NOAA's High Performance Computing and Communications office. I had the personal pleasure of meeting Mr. Turnbull at the Hazards Workshop in Boulder this summer. We are honored to have him join us to talk about what the future may hold in the area of information technology, and its application to disaster management and response.

Welcome Bill. Thank you for joining us today.


Bill Turnbull: Hello everyone and thanks for coming! This is my first "Internet talk," so I hope it goes well. If it does, it will be because of all the help Amy Sebring has given me.


Today I am going to present an overview of the Presidential initiative called "Information Technology for the Twenty-first Century", or IT 2, and how it may be applied to the problems of Emergency managers. This initiative marks a very large investment in IT research by the President and Vice President in the FY2000 budget. This research builds on past successes in federal research - research that led to such things as the mouse, windows and even the Internet itself!


This initiative was developed by the research agencies of the federal government following the recommendations of the President's IT Advisory Committee (PITAC). They felt strongly that the US government must increase funding of long-term research to keep the U.S. in the leadership of this field.

They also recognized that research alone is not enough; it is also necessary to pull the many threads of research together and to focus on specific problems. This helps the problem area, and also helps the research community by testing which ideas actually work in the real world and which don't work.

As I go through the program, I hope you will be thinking about how this work could help emergency managers in the future --- not tomorrow or the next day, but in three to ten years. How would you like to see this new technology brought together to help your work?

By doing simulations, can we better manage a crisis situation? By doing the simulation in advance, can we mitigate the impacts of the crisis when it does occur? What about data --- how can we improve access to data so that the crisis manager has the data needed, when it is needed, and in a form most useful to the situation at hand?

There are four major categories in the program.


• First is fundamental IT research. This is the stuff that forms the building blocks for everything we do with computers.

• Second is advanced computing for complex simulations. My own agency, NOAA, uses the largest computers to forecast weather, including hurricanes, flash floods, blizzards, and tornadoes. We also use large amounts of computing power to simulate climate change and its effects. As you all know from the path of Floyd last week, our current models need some improvements. Improvements which faster computers will help provide.

• Third is research into the social, economic, and workforce implications of this new technology. We would like to understand these effects so we can avoid the negative impacts before they are ingrained in our culture.

• Fourth is the direct payoff, the enabling technology centers (ETC). These centers are to bring together the disparate elements of the first three parts of the program to focus on specific problems. I believe that crisis planning, mitigation, response and recovery together make what is perhaps the most challenging theme for an enabling technology center.


As you can see, these numbers are large, with the fundamental research agencies DARPA in DoD, and NSF getting by far the largest funding. I won't go into detail now on the rest of the budget, but the full implementation plan is available to look at on <http://www.ccic.gov>.

The following slides describe the fundamental research parts of the program and include some images that suggest how the research might be brought to bear on emergency management problems. Software is the most important part of the research program.

How do we write programs more quickly? How do we make those programs more reliable? The research areas you see here are our best ideas today on how to make those two improvements.


An emergency management ETC might work on software components tailored to the EM community. Then some of the software written for hurricanes could be used on flash floods, could be used on fires, and could be used on earthquakes. I am very interested in your ideas on what is needed in software development for emergency management.

This next element focuses on networking. We expect that networks will be everywhere in the future. That's what the shorthand "deeply networked systems" means. Will buildings have sensors that report on the health of the building? Maybe the health of their occupants? How else could we use networks to aid emergency managers?


This next slide pictorially represents the new high-speed networks being developed by programs such as the federal "Next Generation Internet" and the university-based "Internet 2".


Those of you who work near a university or federal research laboratory might recognize some of these acronyms. These networks could be very important in moving huge quantities of data around the nation for a virtual enabling technology center. (Did I mention that these ETC are called centers, but are not expected to be in just one place? They are expected to be virtual - tying together the researchers and users in many parts of the country into the equivalent of a real center.)

Research in high-end computing is intended to make our current computers more efficient, and develop ways of tying together computers around the country to work on the toughest problems.


During a crisis, we need information about what is happening. Today, the problem may not be a lack of data, but too much data pretending to be information. Bringing all of this data together, putting it into our models and databases, then presenting the results in a way that is useful to emergency managers is critical to our success.


This area of Human-Computer Interaction and Information Management is perhaps the most difficult of all since it covers the point at which computers and humans meet. How do we work effectively with our computers? How do they work best with us?

[SLIDE 10]

This next slide shows an experiment we ran with the state of Florida for a simulated oil spill on a beach.

[SLIDE 11]

The person at the extreme left has a small portable computer with a built-in GPS receiver, a transmitter to connect via wireless networking to a local command post, and a video camera. The large antenna on the right transmits to the command center at a remote location.

We wanted the people at all three locations to have access to the same information. The people at the command center should have real-time data, including video from the beach survey, and the beach survey should have access to all the data in the command center, included distributed data from any cooperating location around the country.

The good news is that it worked! The bad news is that the networking was too slow to provide full real-time access. Also, for the system to fulfill its promise, we would need much smarter data access routines.

The next part of the program that focuses on scientific and engineering simulation, has a broad agenda which spans many disciplines of interest to the emergency management community. As our ability to model nature, and the ways nature affects humans and human activities improves, our ability to wisely design our communities will improve as well.

[SLIDE 12]

Hurricanes are one of the few natural disasters that we currently model as they happen. How many lives and how much property could be saved by better warnings of tornadoes, earthquakes, or other natural disasters?

[SLIDE 13]

Even with our current improved hurricane models, there is still much room for improvement, and computers and software are part of the solution.

[SLIDE 14]

Finally, I ask for your ideas. How would you use new abilities in information technology to improve crisis management?

[SLIDE 15]

You can get background information on IT-squared at <http://www.ccic.gov> and on NGI at <http://www.ngi.gov>

Now I would like to hear your ideas on the uses of advanced information technology in emergency management. Where should we be in 10 years?

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much Bill, I am sure we will have some questions and feedback for you. Audience, please enter a question mark (?) to indicate you wish to be recognized, go ahead and compose your comment or question, but wait for recognition before hitting the Enter key or clicking on Send. We now invite your questions or comments.

[Audience Questions]


Russell Coile: You asked for ideas --- earthquake forecasting. Why is there no current research on non-seismological precursor research linking geomagnetic observatories by networks?

Bill Turnbull: You are out of my area of expertise. However, the networks could be used to link observatories, given the will and funding.


Amy Sebring: Bill, what is the status of your research funding requests?

Bill Turnbull: This program is now before Congress. If approved, this month or next, we should begin solicitations soon.


Craig Marks: After the disaster strikes we throw up the old SATCOM and wait for a link to our next higher, be it DOD or FEMA. Is there any thing we can do to provide a SATCOM link that can be assessed by anybody that puts out information from NOAA, etc., so Local EMs can get right to business?

Bill Turnbull: If anybody can access the data, then everybody can. Do we want everyone to get all the data? Or is some of it for emergency use only?

Craig Marks: That would be the point. Kind of a blind transmission like the military uses to multiple units of useful information, instead of isolated outposts waiting for individual links to be established.


Genevieve Pastor: As advanced as the technology can be, how can we ensure security to ensure the data we receive is authentic since networking with centers all over the US will take place?

Bill Turnbull: I am not involved with the details of this specific situation. Is there an IT research issue here?

Genevieve Pastor: Possibly.

Amy Sebring: Is that in response to Genevieve's question, Bill?

Bill Turnbull: Genevieve, Security is always a problem. There will be a major component of the program studying it. We will be looking at security in computers, networks, and also in privacy issues in emergencies.


Russell Coile: How will the users at the bottom of the food chain be able to make our needs known to the IT researchers?

Bill Turnbull: One of our plans - to establish the ETC will include direct user input. We are well aware that the technologists don't know the users needs, so we intend to have direct input from representatives and organizations into the research directions.


Amy Sebring: Bill, will you be involved with the development of the NOAA/NWS system to distribute NEXRAD data?

Bill Turnbull: I am not involved in the operational system. But several weather researchers are trying to develop ways to use the data in forecasts. I am actively trying to get the data they need to them in real-time for their models.


Terry Storer: My concern is the "system" may exceed the capabilities of the end users. We still have local EM agencies waiting for their first computer. What are the provisions being developed for the non-technical, under-funded local clients?

Bill Turnbull: This is a hard problem, probably harder than developing the technology in the first place. Congress has recently recognized --- in the networking area --- that there is a need to distribute the network to disadvantaged areas. I hope that as we develop new technologies, that we will have a similar mandate to get them to all EM users


Amy Sebring: Please feel free to tell Bill what YOU would like to see 10 years down the road. Bill, there seem to be a number of related initiatives, such as GDIN and the Open GIS Disaster SIG, will the ETC attempt to coordinate these various efforts?

Bill Turnbull: Certainly! People involved in both have also been involved in the initial planning of the ETC.


Avagene Moore: Comment on 10 years down the road. I would like to see the local program manager access resources wherever they may be, do his/her reporting, etc., via electronic means, and anyone in same county, adjoining counties, state and feds be able to know what is going on in that disaster situation. Not have to worry about turf issues and going through channels.

Bill Turnbull: That would be great! We will be working toward that vision. We also hope to have the information sent out so that it doesn't overwhelm the EM --- give them what is needed when it is needed.

Avagene Moore: Yes, part of the dream, Bill.


Daryl Spiewak: I would like to see a country-wide mesonet system similar to Oklahoma's. Plus the ability to tie in our local data needs, EOPs, resource lists, etc. Make the system interactive and locally adaptable/programmable. The system should also allow for input from numerous field units by wireless modems. In addition, simulation models and training would be very useful.


Ann Willis: You should pay a visit to some state EM agencies to understand the level of current technology use. What you are talking about here is far beyond their ability to assimilate into current operations.

Bill Turnbull: It is also far beyond our ability to deliver now! We are talking about research into how to do things better.

Ann Willis: You need to prepare them gradually, a piece at a time.

Bill Turnbull: Ultimately we will have to demonstrate real, working prototypes and test them with people who use the systems in their work. Just like NOAA did with its new weather system. Forecasters were brought in each year to try the new ideas. Some worked, some didn't and were dropped. It took about a decade.

Ann Willis: First, you will have to convince them to use those systems in their work.


Chip Hines: How are we coming along in developing tools that one can access information without being operated by an expert; plain English (or other) querying, intelligent interpretation of questions, and provision of information in useable formats, etc.? A key problem with giving data access is ensuring that the end user can get to it without being an IT professional.

Bill Turnbull: You are right! Progress is happening, but not as fast as we hope. In many ways, I believe, the human to computer link is the most difficult. Computers are still too stupid to know what we want them to do.


Amy Sebring: Assuming an ETC goes through, how will it proceed? How will it establish priorities? Will there be an advisory group (FACA)?

Bill Turnbull: Priorities will be jointly established between the research community and advisors. The researchers will say what is feasible, and the users will say what is needed and useful. Then comes the hard part of merging the two lists. At least that is how it is envisioned now.


Barbara Sims: I would like to see hazmat incidents near schools and public places be mitigated by automatic air monitoring, incident reporting, and emergency response notification.

Bill Turnbull: One of the ideas being considered is how to place sensors "everywhere". Then network them together so that we can quickly and easily find out what the true situation is.

Final Comment:

Genevieve Pastor: Perhaps to aid in education, having components, as they are developed and ready for beta testing, be introduced through EIIP as you develop them so that the members of this forum can see how to integrate the technology into their daily operations. On another note, I think voice activation would be the way to go since the activities within an EOC /Command Center can get fast-paced and hectic.

Bill Turnbull: Voice activation, especially in a hectic, noisy situation is still an area requiring the best research! You all have some of the toughest problems. It will be a challenge trying to solve them.

Amy Sebring: Great idea, Genevieve! Bill, consider using our facilities to gather input!

Bill Turnbull: Yes, I am sure that EIIP and other EM organizations will be critical to success!

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much for being with us today, Bill. We hoped you enjoyed it. Please stand by for just a moment, if you can.

Bill Turnbull: Certainly, I have enjoyed it too. I reserve the right to ask for more ideas and more detail on those you've given me today! Thanks!

Amy Sebring: Before we go to Ava for upcoming events; we would like to acknowledge three new pledges today, Leigh Anderson, John Anderson, and Craig Marks. That puts us over the 60 mark. <//bell http://www.emforum.org/pledge.wav>. Thanks Leigh, John and Craig! If you have not made a pledge to join us for at least one session per month, please consider doing so and see <http://www.emforum.org/eiip/pledge.htm> for further info.

Avagene, please!

Avagene Moore: Thanks, Amy. Great session today, Bill. Thanks so much!

Next Tuesday, September 28, Marg Verbeek, IAEM Board of Directors, President of IAEM International, will be our speaker for the IAEM Round Table. Marg is located in Ontario. Will be an interesting look at our international counterparts and the IAEM delegation going to Italy next week.

On Wednesday, September 29, we have a Special Session: Back to School, with Dr. Wayne Blanchard, FEMA, Higher Education Project and educators from around the country. Join us for that session as well.

That's all for now, Amy.

Amy Sebring: Thanks, Avagene and thank you, audience. We will adjourn the session for now, but you are invited to remain for open discussion. We will have the text transcript posted this afternoon.