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Cutting-edge communication grid

Thanks to the NSF-supported PRAGMA partnership, grid-computing researchers around the Pacific Rim mobilized to fight the SARS epidemic, helping establish a cutting-edge communication grid among quarantined hospitals across Taiwan.
Credit: National Center for High-performance Computing, Taiwan


Intelligence Analysis: This graph shows associations in COPLINK, which integrates law enforcement databases in a single web-based interface.
Credit: COPLINK, Department of Management Information Systems, University of Arizona

A Universal Safety.Net
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 efforts.

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.

Systems You Can Count On [Next]

The Computing Research Association outlined five illustrative Grand 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.