Who you gonna call? ERIC
CSIRO, in collaboration with the Australian Government Department of Human Services Emergency Management team, has developed the Emergency Response Intelligence Capability (ERIC), a web based productivity tool designed to generate situation reports for emergency events at specific locations.
21 August 2013
Glen Paul: G’day, and welcome to CSIROpod. I’m Glen Paul. Developing a situation report from the scene of an emergency or disaster requires emergency management teams to quickly and accurately gather and process information from many and varied sources, often in very demanding situations, and this is where ERIC comes to the rescue.
No, ERIC isn’t some sort of action hero, it’s an acronym for the Emergency Response Intelligence Capability, a web based productivity tool that gathers data and presents it in a map based website. Developed in collaboration with the Australian Government Department of Human Services Emergency Management Team, ERIC helps generate situation reports for emergency events at specific locations.
To find out more about ERIC I’m joined by CSIRO researcher, and Director of the Human Services Delivery Research Alliance, a co-ordinating body between CS IRO and Human Services, Mr Michael Kearney. Michael, tell us what exactly is ERIC, and where did the need for it come from?
Michael Kearney: Well your explanation at the beginning was very accurate, it’s a web based tool, it automatically collects information, usually from state agencies about emergencies, it integrates that together and presents all of the integrated information over the top of what we call a zoomable panable map.
The need came about from discussions with Department of Human Services. In the past this task has been performed manually, so a member of the staff would sit down and would access a number of websites relating to a particular emergency location, and they would literally cut and paste information from those websites into a Word document, and they would then integrate all that information together manually, and that would then become the beginnings of their situation report.
So what ERIC does is it automates many of those manual steps. It collects information from the websites automatically, it stores it in a database, and then depending on where you are in Australia, you can see all the information relevant to this particular part of Australia. So it means two things for the Department – it means that the can do their job faster because they don’t have to spend all their time doing manual work, but also another important aspect is it integrates data together so that the managers can see all of the relevant information all put together in one place.
Glen Paul: And how might the information be used?
Michael Kearney: So the first thing is that the Human Services is not the first respondents, they don’t go out and put out the fires, or rescue people from a flood, their role begins after the first crisis has happened. So they have to provide emergency relief to citizens who have been affected by the disaster, and they do that by sending people out into the field. So they need to work out is it safe for these people to go into a particular location?
Glen Paul: So with all that information floating around, how quickly can you input it into ERIC? For example, you might get a call from someone downstream during a flood saying an access road has been cut off or something like that?
Michael Kearney: So Human Services typically don’t collect that information themselves – that’s collected by the police and by the emergency fire authorities, and people like that. So we access this information from them. This is published by those authorities on their websites, so what we do is we go around and we collect the information from those websites. Being a software system it can go around every four or five minutes and collect this information.
Now not always is the information updated that quickly, but what ERIC does is it collects information, and when it displays it, it highlights those pieces of information that have changed since the last time the information was published.
Glen Paul: And has ERIC actually been put through its paces and trialled in a real emergency situation?
Michael Kearney: The software was developed in the first six months of last year, and the Department trialled it during what they call the disaster season, which runs from October through to March, so they trialled it last year in the disaster season, which included unfortunately two major fires, and they liked what they saw. They suggested a range of improvements that we’ve been implementing, and for this disaster season they’re going to use it operationally.
Glen Paul: Excellent. And what other roles could you see ERIC potentially undertaking?
Michael Kearney: ERIC in this particular role is focused very much on collecting and integrating information about disasters, but it’s quite a general tool, and it enables you to present almost any information that’s got a spatial component to it. And there’s actually an enormous amount of information that can be represented spatially.
At the moment we’re having discussions with the Department about other applications of ERIC in their business, not in emergency planning, but helping the Department make better decisions where the information that they need to process has a spatial component.
Glen Paul: And is ERIC at the moment exclusively for the use of the Department of Human Services?
Michael Kearney: So we have two versions of ERIC – there’s one version that’s exclusively for the Department, but there’s another version that’s available to the public, and I can give you the web address if you’d like.
Glen Paul: By all means. Please do.
Michael Kearney: OK. So it is http://eric.csiro.au, and anyone who wants to have a look at it can access that from that web address.
Glen Paul: Well ERIC certainly does sound like a handy piece of kit to have around during an emergency, and I’m sure we’re going to need his services soon enough. Thanks very much for discussing it with us today, Michael. Great stuff.
Michael Kearney: You’re welcome.
Glen Paul: Michael Kearney. And to find out more about the research, or to find us on other social media, just visit www.csiro.au.