Handheld App Aims To Help Decrease Disaster's Impact

Used at earthquake sites and Ground Zero, an application helps researchers assess data that can have an impact on building and civil infrastructure design.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

March 13, 2002

2 Min Read

A handheld application that was used to find out how the buildings surrounding the World Trade Center withstood the Sept. 11 disaster, and apply that data so future buildings will be more resistant to damage, is being developed for vertical business markets. Designed by David Frost, a professor of civil engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and graduate student Scott Deaton, the system was originally created to help researchers more easily assess damage from earthquakes, in order to build a civil infrastructure that minimizes the damage from such events.

The Palm Pilot application lets users who want to record damage descriptions pick from menu options, and that information is automatically linked to global positioning system coordinates. At the same time, the researchers can take digital photos, which are also linked with the data and location. At the end of the day, all the data each researcher gathers can be uploaded into a single spatial database for review, so researchers can plan the next day's assessment activities. It eliminates researchers' having to use pen and paper to record descriptions and GPS coordinates, and then waiting until they can return to the office (which can be days in disaster situations) to upload the data to a computer to start creating a digital record. "To synthesize all the data while the team is in the field to make sure there are no blanks is very powerful," Frost says. With enhancements to the core software, Frost and Deaton say they'll be able to develop similar applications for hurricanes, tornados, and floods.

But commercial uses for the application abound, the developers say. Frost and Deaton have started a company, called DataForensics LLC, in Atlanta, with Frost serving as chairman and chief research officer and Deaton as the president and chief software architect. They're working on tailoring the application for contractors that must monitor the environmental impacts of oil tanks for oil companies, and they even expect to revise the application for the insurance industry, for example. "What a lot of [insurance] companies do is write out the damage on a clipboard, then go to a car and input the data into a computer," Deaton says. "The idea is to have to input the data only once. You'll save a lot of time and reduce the errors." They haven't yet set a release date for those products.

It's not lost on the DataForensics founders that their software has evolved from tragedies. In fact, Frost says, many technological advances have come from monumental events. The more important point is that the application proved its worth at Ground Zero. Working on a $20,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, the team brought the application to Ground Zero, where, in about four days, it was able to document damage information about most of the buildings in a 10-square block area around the World Trade Center complex; using old methods the process could have taken a month.

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