Working without a net has its risks. When it comes to earthquakes,
floods or terrorist attacks, the networks of information
technologies that we take for granted in many aspects
of our daily lives do not yet fully capture the needs
of the nation's safety net of emergency responders.
One example of a grand challenge for the computer and information
sciences is to weave information technology into our environment
as an ever-present "Safety.Net" that could prevent
-- or at least minimize -- the impact of disasters, improving
the speed and quality of emergency response and guiding recovery
Creating such a Safety.Net requires research in several
areas. Researchers must develop new sensor materials and
instruments, wireless networks, energy sources and control
systems to embed networks of wireless sensors in rivers,
earthquake faults, buildings and bridges throughout the natural
and human-built environment. The complexity of such systems
also requires advances in system design and communication
capabilities so the Safety.Net will continue to work despite
-- and especially during -- real-world disasters.
The wireless sensor networks and other digital information
sources will overwhelm emergency responders without research
into data integration, data mining and enhanced analysis
methods. Finally, the entire Safety.Net must be understandable
and manageable by emergency response personnel who are under
great stress, fatigue and emotional pressure.
Along the way, the research may also benefit individuals.
For example, a Personal Safety.Net could enable people to
remain in their own homes as they age, making it easier and
safer for them to perform their daily activities. In the
event of life-threatening situations, the Safety.Net would
call for the appropriate emergency response.
At the same time, research must ensure that the Safety.Net
protects, but doesn't trap, its users. Personal privacy, for
example, becomes an issue in a world under constant surveillance
by sensor networks. Research must address these social factors
for the resulting Safety.Net to revolutionize the current 9-1-1
emergency response system.
You Can Count On [Next]
The Computing Research Association outlined five
Research Challenges in a report resulting from a three-day
workshop supported by the National Science Foundation. The
grand challenges relate to building the information systems
of the future and provide long-term goals for the activities
of the research community.