Edited Version of February 25, 1998 Transcript

EIIP Tech Arena Online Presentation

PlantSafe: Artificial Intelligence and Emergency Response

Special Presentation


Albert Slap, Marketing Director

GeoSphere Emergency Response Systems

EIIP Tech Arena Moderator - Amy Sebring

The original transcript of the February 25, 1998 online Tech Arena presentation is available in the EIIP Virtual Forum Archives (http://www.emforum.org). The following version of the transcript was been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each input were deleted but content of discussion, questions, and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers from the presenter to questions by the audience are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.

The Presentation:

Amy Sebring: On behalf of the EIIP, I am pleased to welcome you to a special event in our Tech Arena.

Before I introduce our special guest, I would like to review how to use links to display Web pages in another browser window for the benefit of our newcomers. When a full URL is typed in the message area, it becomes a hot link, so you can just click on it, and a webpage will display in another browser window. Your browser may display behind the chat window, so you may have to look for it. Make sure you don't accidentally close the EIIP chat login window, or you will be disconnected from the conversation. If that happens, please log back in using a slight variation on your name. I will put up an opening screen URL so you may take a moment to size and arrange your windows so that you can swap easily between windows.


Amy Sebring: This is a moderated session and our guest will take questions or comments about 20 or 30 minutes into the hour. When you type in your question, it does not appear on everyone else's screen until submitted by the moderator. One more reminder --- please do not send direct messages to the speaker or the moderator. We are very busy trying to keep things running smoothly. If your question does not get answered during the session, you will have a chance in the Virtual Forum afterward.

And now, it is my pleasure to introduce Albert Slap, Marketing Director for GeoSphere Emergency Response Systems, who will tell us something about their expert system, PlantSafe.

Mr. Slap, welcome and thank you for being here today.

Albert Slap: Good morning. My name is Albert Slap. I'm the marketing director at GeoSphere Emergency Response Systems. Our offices are in Doylestown, PA. Amy has provided you with a link to our website and other information about our company. I am pleased to provide you today with some information and ideas to improve incident command in emergency response. We, at GeoSphere, have developed a decision support system (DSS) for incident command (IC) in emergency response (ER) (second slide please).


Albert Slap: In doing so, we have utilized an expert system (ES), which is a type of artificial intelligence. Some of the problems that we have tried to solve are described in the second slide.

Basically, an expert system is a way for companies and organizations to capture knowledge and rules-of-thumb of the most senior experts (in this case, incident commanders) and make those rules and recommendations available to junior level personnel, who may be on the front line in any particular emergency (next slide please).


Albert Slap: PlantSafe is the name of our emergency response advisory system. TeleSafe is our high-speed automatic notification system, which handles autodialing and autopaging of emergency response personnel and community notification. The PlantSafe/TeleSafe system has important decision support features that are needed in incident command.

First, it is networkable so multiple members of the incident command team can participate in the incident using our computerized system, as opposed to a manual system.

Secondly, the system uses a rules-based expert system to easily guide the users through the incident. The expert rules fire when antecedent conditions are met. When the expert system fires, it can activate: the autodialer/autopager, computerized models for toxic gas plume dispersion or other models, sirens or other parts of the distributed control systems.

Thirdly, this decision support system provides a realistic incident command training tool (next slide please).


Albert Slap: There are some important features of the a decision support system that I would like to point out. PlantSafe utilizes the latest GIS maps and query techniques. So, it can automatically calculate the population in the danger zone, and display that information on the map along with a building evacuation list and sensitive environmental receptors. It also associates buildings with corporate data bases, such as chemical inventory or personnel information. CAD files are linked with buildings or otherwise offered as map overlays (such as evacuation grids, etc.). The user can establish performance timeclocks in the system and measure the success of the response in real-time (either during an actual emergency or in a simulation training mode). The expert system can be activated by an operator or by sensors or alarms.

An activated gas alarm can be set to automatically send out an alphanumeric page to a designated list of responders. Such a decision support tool captures all user and alarm activity within a report or data logger and generates a customized report upon incident termination. Also, this decision support tool provides instant access to other data bases on other servers on the facility network. (next slide).


Albert Slap: The kinds of materials that are used to customize PlantSafe and TeleSafe for each facility or governmental entity would be area GIS and CAD maps. The kinds of materials that are used to customize PlantSafe and TeleSafe for each facility or governmental entity would be area GIS and CAD maps, MSDSs, notification lists, emergency response plans (and risk management plans), performance time clocks, checklists, etc. (next slide).


Albert Slap: Some of the key benefits of such a decision support system include: getting away from manual methods of emergency response and computerizing incident command, preserving corporate knowledge that has been built up over the years within the organization; making that expertise available to all levels of ER personnel at all hours of the day and night; improves the accuracy and consistency in ER (fewer mistakes); provides realistic on-site training, reduces notification times; and improves public trust.

I think this last point requires a few more words. With the RMPs due out in 1999, there will undoubtedly be some fallout from the off site consequence analysis whether it is the worst-case or alternative analysis. Companies and LEPCs need to be prepared to deal with this and to show that they have implemented state-of-the-art systems to improve the level of response to hazmat emergencies. This system goes well beyond a simple plume model. The concept here is to harness all of the various pieces of the information puzzle that the IC team needs during a crisis by using a rules-based expert system. (last slide).


Albert Slap: This is a partial list of PlantSafe locations. Also, if you would like more detailed information on expert systems in emergency response, Amy has posted a paper I wrote on her website. (Please post the URL for "Expert Systems in Emergency Response."). That ends the formal presentation. I would be pleased to answer questions at this time.

Amy Sebring: The URL (http://www.emforum.org/varena/er2.htm) where paper is posted. Audience may submit questions by typing in the message area.

Question -

Amy Sebring: Albert, can you tell us how rule-based systems differ from other approaches?

Albert Slap: Yes. An expert system and particularly a rules based system will mimic the work of an expert using a decision tree matrix approach at speeds that approach human knowledge of a top expert. The problem for companies and government is that they usually do not have the top experts just sitting around.

Question -

Rick Tobin: Is the system intuitive enough to work with other systems, e.g., could a system for fire and one for law be combined to be used by an Incident Commander at a Command Post?

Albert Slap: Yes. You have rules created for different domains such as hazmat, fire, EMS and public safety, natural disaster, and terrorism. So, you can select which one is appropriate.


Annie Loftus: Has the system demonstrated itself in an emergency?

Albert Slap: Yes, it is in use at over 17 locations in the US and Europe. Dow Freeport TX is the largest chemical plant in the US and regularly uses it in emergencies and training. We connect to weather towers and other sensors, too.

Question -

Peter La Tora: Mr. Slap, What are the hardware & operating system requirements?

Albert Slap: For PlantSafe, NT it would be one high end NT server, Windows 95/97 workstations.

Question -

Amy Sebring: When will the NT version be available?

Albert Slap: Probably by the Summer of '98. The TeleSafe autodialer and autopager is already NT and is provided with a computer that has the communication boards already installed.

Question -

Bryan Zak: Having accurate information in the "Rules Based Approach" is legally very important. How will users know they have the most up to date reliable information, and who will be responsible for the information?

Albert Slap: Good question. We have experts in fire, hazmat and EMS that load many of the rules/recommendations/cues in advance. Then we work with each plant or government customer to customize the remaining set. We then update rules, cues, recommendations on an ongoing basis. This will be a kind of subscription service that the customers will have as part of our contract with them.

Question -

Amy Sebring: How long does it typically take to get a system up and running?

Albert Slap: Currently, about 3-months from the time we get a purchase order but it depends on several factors. First, how far along the customer is in its own ER plans, etc. The second is how much system integration is required with sensors, alarms etc.

Question -

Rick Tobin: Is the system compatible --- by actual experience --- with Lotus Notes platforms?

Albert Slap: I would have to ask our technical staff. Currently, the 17 installations are all stand alone units with internal data bases and tables. So, they are not connecting to other data bases or tables on other servers on the system yet.

Question -

Annie Loftus: During an emergency, do employees show reluctance to trust recommendations of a computer system? Can this be measured?

Albert Slap: Not at all. The whole system is prepared in draft and supplied to the customer so that the customer is completely familiar with the content and the process. The IC always has the option of disagreeing with a recommendation and logging the reasons therefore.

Question -

Chip Hines: What measurable savings in terms of costs or staff have your users reported to you? Do you have any information about performance enhancements that users report?

Albert Slap: Good questions. As far as cost savings, there are numerous ones. The level of expertise needed on second and third shifts can be reduced and that is a cost savings right there. Secondly, this system is a powerful on-site IC training tool so customers can do IC training on site (with a simulation mode and performance time clocks) and not have to send people out for expensive off site training.

On the second question, the users report to us that the response times and notification times are greatly enhanced. I can't tell you that any have actually quantified this, but I can give you some references. John Shepherd at PPG La Porte, TX is one.

Question -

Avagene Moore: Mr. Slap, is it your experience that the private sector or community LEPCs drive the utilization of this type technology?

Albert Slap: Well, this is a good question. PlantSafe is the only ER software system that is off the shelf using an expert system. I am aware that Oakland, CA had a system built for it that has been a custom installation and quite expensive and has now been surrounded in controversy. We have tried to move into the large plant market and have found them very receptive and forward thinking. These are plants with their own hazmat teams and, for the stand-alone PlantSafe system, we offered to give a free copy to the LEPC, if the company wanted to donate one. There have been several municipal placements including the Kanawha Valley LEPC.

Question -

Peter La Tora: Mr. Slap, Has the Federal Emergency Management Agency been made aware of this system?

Albert Slap: Yes... but frankly they were not much interested at the time we went to Washington but that was probably two years ago. We have made so many technological advancements since then that we should try to make contact with them again. The applicability to SERCs and LEPCs has really increased with NT multi-user capability, IC structure built in, and various expert rules sets available.

Question -

Rick Tobin: If an organization doesn't have the expertise for the intelligent systems, whose expertise should they get or trust that is compatible with their needs?

Albert Slap: Basically we work with many consultants in ER, some of whom are value added resellers of PlantSafe. They are the ones that can shape up an organization's plans and procedures. We would not necessarily be providing this service.

Question -

Annie Loftus: Our IC's are reluctant to hardwire their plans because it reduces flexibility in an emergency, and makes evaluations more damning. Have you had trouble getting solid specific plans?

Albert Slap: The plans are required by law to be written and available in the plant. OSHA/EPA and the historical expertise of the ICs is an asset owned by the corporation and should be preserved in case that person retires or gets hit by a truck as far as the legal liability for preserving the information that is autologged in the system, that is an issue that can usually be worked out with corporate counsel. Is that what you meant?

Question -

Amy Sebring: Albert, once NT is issued, are there any long term plans for future enhancements?

Albert Slap: Yes, we have numerous ideas for improving the system and making it more mobile. One of the obvious directions is the use of the Internet and having secure sites with an entities PlantSafe system that can be used from any location and is kept fresh and secure in case a major catastrophe takes down the local network.

Closing -

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much Albert for an informative session, and our audience may be interested to know you have an extensive legal background. We will have the transcript of today's session posted in a few days with the background material.

Thank you audience, and since our time is up, we will close down the Tech Arena for today, but we will be in the Virtual Forum room for a few minutes longer, and you are welcome to join us there for open discussion.