Purdue app helps first responders locate people in need during natural disasters

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WTHR) — Developers at Purdue University are trying to help teams responding to hurricanes this year with a new technology.

They've created a platform that helps first responders keep an eye on areas that could be affected by natural disasters.

"This is something the U.S. Coast Guard used last year during the four hurricanes that made landfall so they had a better idea of the situation," said David Ebert, who is the professor overseeing the project. "And in communities they hadn’t been to yet to find out, are there people in need, what are the problems they’re having, who needs rescuing."

It's called SMART — Social Media Analytics and Reporting Toolkit. It monitors areas where hurricanes make landfall, and helping first responders find people in need of help.

First responders can set up key words like "flooding" or "emergency," and they'll get a visual display of the geographic area where the words are being used.

"They will definitely post about it," said Calvin Yau, who is a PhD student working on the project. "There are so many people, when an earthquake happens, they’re like, 'there’s an earthquake!' Before they run out of the house."

As Hurricane Florence nears landfall, this service will become increasingly important considering a matter of minutes can mean the difference between life and death.

"Obviously if someone’s in need, they should use 911," said Ebert. "They should use the channels that are available, but sometimes when voice communication goes down, data communication can still be available."

Officials in California recently used the platform to help during deadly wildfires earlier this year.

"I do think this is going to help with the situations we’re in," said Yau. "I think this is a helpful step for us to really have more awareness of what’s going on."

The application can also track potential attacks during major public events, analyze school threats and monitor street traffic.

"I think it’s great that we can help these first responders because the more you work with them, the more you realize how dedicated and how valuable they are," said Ebert. "We’re so grateful to their partnership to be able to make this happen."

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