Research aims to beat the Stansted snow chaos -

Research aims to beat the Stansted snow chaos

LONDON — Research following the chaos that followed the heavy snowstorm that hit the Stansted area on January 31 2003, in which thousands of drivers were trapped overnight, proved to be the starting point for work to guide emergency responses with the help of semantic Web-based services.

The IST-funded DIP (Data, Information, and Process Integration with Semantic Web Services) project has been working on semantic Web services for a couple of years.

They aim to create an environment in which applications can be automatically created from available services on the Internet without human intervention and where the computer can understand and interpret a word or command based on given ontologies, controlled vocabularies that describe objects and the relations between them in a specific domain.

The snow blizzard in Standsted turned into a case study which resulted in a decision-support system which automatically combines a number of Web services, semantically described in ontologies, assisting the planning of a emergency response actions. With the help of the snow blizzard the project could successfully illustrate to the Essex County Council’s Emergency Planning Department, in South-East England, how the prototype could enhance their future work.

“In an emergency situation, multiple agencies need to collaborate, sharing data and information about actions to be performed. However, the current emergency response systems is that they are centralised and isolated systems, which makes them slower in scope and response time,” explains Alessio Gugliotta,Research Fellow at the Knowledge Media Institute at The Open University.

To date an Emergency Planning Officer (EPO) has to compile a lot of data and combine it, usually using a combination of phone and fax, in order to put together an emergency response action. The DIP system will facilitate this process by automatically doing the compiling and combining with the help of different existing Web services.

The system consists of three distinct domains; meteorological office, Essex County Council emergency planning and a so-called BuddySpace system, which allows presence management in a selected area. These three are layered at three levels (legacy systems, web services, ontological descriptions) imposed on a map from Google and are all integrated in the user interface.

The starting point for the EPO is to identify the emergency area, which is done with the help of Google maps. “If for instance there is a snow blizzard, as in the example of Stansted, you can search for accommodation in the area, such as hotels, inns and hospitals, to be used as shelters. You can find the accommodation with certain preconditions, like the necessity of the place being heated. Back at the Goggle map it will give you all the possible candidates along with the contact details,” says Gugliotta.

On the map you can find all necessary contact and location information. In a second version of the prototype a 3D function of the system will also allow you to view the building and highlight a good entrance for the firemen to enter, for instance. In other emergencies, like fires, the system can integrate other information about locating water tanks or pumps in the nearby area and show whether it is accessible to the rescue teams, giving the EPO a balanced view of the possible evacuation alternatives, explains Gugliotta.

However, the application has more features. It can locate firefighters or police officers in the area and it makes it possible to initiate a chat session with them. “The Essex County Council liked this feature but also asked to have contact details added to the chatting function so that it would be possible to contact the policeman directly on his mobile,” Gugliotta continues.

“They also requested some modifications to the prototype. For instance, they suggested traffic cameras integrated in the services.”

The next couple of months, before the end of the project in December, the project will work on incorporating these changes. The results from this prototype can inspire to new applications in a new project based on the semantic web services technology, called SUPER.

The prototype was designed for the Essex County Council but the semantic concept makes it flexible and it is possible to adapt it to many other useful services, accroding to Gugliotta.

The project has already explored how the system can be adopted into a Web portal which can be used to notify other services about the change of circumstances of a person. “In the United Kingdom for instance where you have a lot of benefit programmes, one change of your personal data may influence the payment of benefits and several involved agencies need to be informed, which is why administrations could make good use [of DIP’s technologies] from retrieving the data,” says Gugliotta.

DIP is an Integrated Project under the European Commission's 6th Framework Programme with a budget of €16.3million. It started in January 2004 and runs for 3 years. DIP is co-ordinated by the Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI) of the National University of Ireland, Galway.

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