Archive for the ‘Information Technology’ Category

Common Alerting Protocol Used in Response to October 2013 Fires in Australia

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Author: Dr. Patti Aymond, Senior Scientist, IEMemergency022

Research shows that in an emergency situation, the most effective warnings are those that are delivered consistently over multiple channels. When people hear the same message from different sources, they are convinced it is real and are motivated to take action.

However, with so many diverse warning technologies available, it has been a challenge to develop a standard format that can be used to distribute a consistent message successfully by all systems.

The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) has addressed this challenge by developing the Common Alerting Protocol, or CAP—a message standard to support the automatic exchange of consistent alert and warning messages among different types of communication systems. CAP increases warning effectiveness and minimizes the complexity of notification since the CAP format is used by a variety of different systems.

As a software developer and a partner in OASIS standards development, I am proud to see the benefits of CAP coming to life through actual use in emergency management situations. This year, we saw it used during the unfortunate series of wildfires in New South Wales, Australia. (more…)

“Make No Little Plans; They Stir Not Men’s Blood”, A Tribute to Our Women in Science & Technology

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Marie Curie, Women in Science & TechnologyAuthor: Madhu Beriwal, CEO & President of IEM

June is National Women in Science and Technology Month. Nationwide only 20% of jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are held by women.  As a female CEO of a consulting firm focused on the use of science and technology to improve global safety and security,  I’d like to take a moment to recognize the notable achievements of our women in science and technology whose work is changing perceptions of women throughout their respective disciplines.

I’d like to take a moment to recognize the notable achievements of our women in science and technology whose work is changing perceptions of women throughout their respective disciplines.

One of my favorite quotes is:

“Make no little plans; they stir not men’s blood”

To generate excitement, attention, and change, we are challenged to Think Big and Dream Big. IEM’s  women in science and technology—software developers, psychologists, statisticians, analysts, emergency managers, and more—are using their expertise, brainpower, and creativity to think big and accomplish more, inspiring others to do the same. I am very proud of what they are accomplishing in their fields, some of which includes:  (more…)

Conducting Surveys in a Diverse Communications World

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Author: Marilyn Stackhouse, Senior Communications and Outreach Specialist, IEM

In 1999, only 29 percent of U.S. residents used cell phones. Today, more than 91 percent of the U.S. population use cell phones — a 237% increase! Many people, “cord cutters,” as they’re known in the industry, have kicked their landlines to the curb and have only a cell phone number.  The number of cord cutters will probably increase, given the growing popularity and sales of smart phones that integrate many functions previously available only on computers.

It makes you wonder if landline phones are in the category with dinosaurs – something that roamed (pun intended) the earth eons ago.

What does this mean for telephone surveys, a major component of market research and a big part of IEM’s work in conducting public outreach surveys that help evaluate the public’s awareness and knowledge of emergency warning methods, sources of information during an emergency, and willingness and ability to follow recommended protective actions?

For sure, this phenomenon has impacted phone surveys.  However, a national study of surveys conducted using cell phones found that although conducting surveys with sampled cell phone numbers was feasible, there were lower response rates than in landline surveys, higher refusal rates, and lower refusal conversion rates (convincing respondents who have declined to take the survey to actually take it).

Because cord cutters tend to be younger populations, telephone surveys have experienced a sharp decline in the percentage of younger respondents interviewed.

This has not gone unnoticed by our customers, and, as a result, they have requested that we identify options to landline surveys. While including cell phones in the survey was a requested option, we recommended an internet survey in addition to the landline survey as an alternative to try to capture this younger demographic for the following reasons.

  • Currently, telephone surveys use a process called random digit dialing to access telephone numbers where the prefix is attached to a specific geographic location. Cell phone number prefixes may be tied to a geographic location, but there is no guarantee that the person actually lives or works in that area.  To account for that, more cell phone numbers would have to be called to get a similar response rate to the landline telephone survey.  In addition, Federal law prohibits the use of automated dialing devices when calling cell phones; thus each number in the cell phone sample would have to be dialed manually, increasing costs.
  • Most surveys are conducted to gather information from and document the experiences of adult respondents.  Since many adolescents and teenagers under the age of 18 have personal cell phones, they would be ineligible to participate in a cell phone survey.
  • Research shows that adding a cell phone only portion to a telephone survey only changes the results of the overall survey by +/- 1 percentage point.

In 2012, IEM will conduct a pilot internet public outreach survey, along with the landline telephone survey, for one of our customers. We anticipate this will provide a wider range of respondents and do a better job of reaching younger age demographics. The survey questions will be comparable with previous surveys so we should be able to measure the effect of adding the internet survey to the previous landline phone only survey.

Stay tuned for the results.

Scientists and citizens collaborate on Cahooots GIS Map of Gulf Coast oil spill

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Author: Dr. Neeraj Mainkar, Physicist/Manager, Software Development, IEM

Information sharing and collaboration among the general population for disaster management and response is a very powerful thing. Take the current BP Gulf Coast Oil Spill disaster for example. Since the start of this catastrophic event, Cahooots is being used by thousands of individuals, agencies, and response groups to post, share, and gain information about this ongoing environmental tragedy. Witnesses on the ground have reported and shared oil sightings in the water, fouled wildlife sightings on the Gulf shore, and conditions at popular beach resorts along the Gulf coast.

BP Gulf Oil Spill MapThis information on the Gulf oil spill response, oiled wildlife and the 21st century’s greatest environmental disaster is being collected in a powerful collaborative GIS mapping tool. The information on the Cahooots Gulf Oil Spill map is instantaneous, real-time and entirely decentralized. To help collaborate with us on Gulf oil spill data, register for a free account at To view the collaborative Oil Spill map, visit

Are You In Cahooots?

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Author: Dr. Neeraj Mainkar, Physicist/Manager, Software Development, IEM

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you probably have at least heard of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace. Many of you probably already have a Facebook account and, like me, update your status a few times a day. The extreme popularity of social networking sites is based on a very fundamental human need—a need to reach out to people, make a connection with friends and family, share special interests that include music, pictures, an interesting article you’ve read or simply tell other interested parties about what’s going on in your life. In other words, we have a basic need to share information.

While social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace cater to the non-serious, casual side of information sharing, the technology that has enabled sites like these to proliferate (namely Web 2.0) can and, in fact, is being used for serious information sharing as well. For example, it’s being used for information sharing during or after major disasters.

In today’s world, where speed is measured by how soon you can update your Facebook status, traditional news media such as TV, radio, and newspapers fall woefully short of quick information sharing. In traditional news media, there are simply too many nodes that a particular piece of news has to go through before it can be broadcast. This results in the frustrating outcome that by the time the news reaches the general public, reality has already changed. In addition, the distribution of news is always centralized to the particular news organization in question—be it a TV or radio channel, or the newspaper agency. They give and we receive.

The advent of Web 2.0 technologies has threatened this old relic of one-way flow of information by making the sharing and dissemination of important information completely “democratic” and quick. (more…)

Become an Expert at Word: Tips from a Know-It-All

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Author: Jonathan Wiggins, Technical Writer, IEM

Before coming to IEM, I thought I was a master at Word. Up to that point, I had gotten everything I needed out of the program and didn’t think there was anything more I could learn. I was young and egotistical back then. Since coming to work here as an editor, however, I’ve learned many new things about the program—some out of necessity, some out of curiosity.

I am now older and impossibly more egotistical. My prowess with Word has astounded and amazed people at workshops across the country. After one workshop, a fire chief offered me a job on the spot. Were it not as his secretary, I might have been tempted. Although what I and other editors are capable of may look like magic to some, don’t be fooled. We’re simply making the most of the tools available to us. To that end, I was recently asked to include some Word tips in the newsletter.

Efficiency is often necessity for an editor. To be competitive in the marketplace, project budgets do not always allow enough time for thorough edits. As a result, we have to make do with the time we’re given. Keyboard shortcuts are one of the most effective weapons in our arsenal. Using keystrokes to accomplish something will generally always be faster than using your mouse to accomplish the same thing—especially while trying to learn Office 2007. For example, to save your document, hitting Ctrl + S takes less than a second; whereas moving your mouse to Office Button ® Save takes a bit more time. It’s not a huge savings, but it adds up.

The following keyboard shortcuts pertain to selecting text. Note: The shortcuts, as is the case with many keyboard shortcuts, are universal and can be used in other programs.

  • To select all text, press Ctrl + A.
  • To select one character at a time, press Shift + Left [ALR1]  or Shift + Right, as appropriate.
  • To select one whole word at a time, press Ctrl + Shift + Left or Ctrl + Shift +Right.
  • Press Shift + Home to select the text from your cursor’s current position to the beginning of the line. Press Shift + End to select the text from your cursor’s current position to the end of the line.
  • Press Ctrl + Shift + Home to select the text from your cursor’s current position to the beginning of the document. Press Ctrl + Shift + End +to select the text from your cursor’s current position to the end of the document.

Information Sharing in Disasters

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Author: William Doerr Davis, Director of Software Development, IEM

The crisis in Haiti is unfolding in a world that has never been more connected in terms of information, people, and emotion. The 2001 terrorist attacks, the 2004 tsunami, and 2005’s Hurricane Katrina showed us that the web can be a responsible source of information for billions of people all over the world. However, the information flow in response to the recent Haiti earthquakes is much different due to an expansion of web 2.0 platforms. When Katrina struck, Facebook had barely begun its explosive growth, Twitter had not yet been created, and not a single person carried the now ubiquitous iPhone. So despite having many web sources of information during those disasters, we still relied heavily upon the traditional news networks for information about what was happening.

Today, we see that information is flowing at a more rapid pace and from many more sources. As consumers of this information, we are able to follow up-to-the minute disaster reports through Twitter and Facebook —all from the convenience of a cell phone that is by our side 24/7. The application of these technologies in response to a disaster were considered futuristic a mere decade ago.

While Haiti has helped us realize how the flow of information can bring us unprecedented knowledge during a disaster, there is still much work to be done to better harness that knowledge to help communities respond and recover.  This is a key focus area for IEM’s technology teams. We are working on solutions that leverage the latest generation of web 2.0 technologies while also working to overcome one of the most basic challenges facing emergency managers in a disaster —how to share, consume, and act upon knowledge that can save people’s lives.

The technologies that enable this are improving each day and, with each disaster, organizations, communities, and public officials are learning how they can incorporate these tools into their processes.  One of the solutions IEM has developed is a collaboration platform called Cahooots (, which is built upon an open source framework and uses the power of social networking to help emergency managers, and even individual citizens, share information related to a disaster. In contrast to Twitter and Facebook, Cahooots allows anyone to post information to a map, so that a “picture” of a particular set of information can develop. Other technology companies have also taken up similar challenges, and we welcome the opportunity to work collectively with the entire web community to translate information sharing into lives saved and communities rebuilt.

If even one life can be saved by a piece of information, the technology will be a success.