Data collection in environmental disasters may become an easier task if scientists can engage the help of 'citizen scientists', who could help them deal with such situations more efficiently.
Jules White of the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering is seeking to create a massive data collection system that would rely on information captured by "citizen scientists" who would use devices such as smart phones to take photographic evidence from the site of disaster areas.
Once collected at a single source, scientists and other responders could quickly sift through data, and decide how best to react.
"Traditional applications for monitoring disasters have relied on specialized, tightly-coupled, and expensive hardware and software platforms to capture, aggregate and disseminate information on affected areas," wrote White.
"We lack science and technology for rapid and dependable integration of computing and communication technology into natural and engineered physical systems, cyber-physical systems," he said.
In the case of the Gulf Coast oil spill, citizens could photograph or record images such as fish or birds, or oil-blackened grasslands, and send the data to the collection center.
"Everyday people can record ecological impacts that they see and send along that data for scientist to use," added White.
White also pointed to spring flooding in Nashville, Tenn., recent flooding in Pakistan, and the January earthquake in Haiti as other dire examples in which data collected and sent by ordinary citizens could help rescue and response coordinators react more quickly and efficiently.
Citizens also could help track damage to cell phone towers or electric grids in some cases, said White.
The system would be easy enough for school-age children to use," he said.