Capturing Ephemeral Communication Data From The VT Tragedy: Toward Managing Emergency Response By Citizens

Start Date: 07/01/2007
End Date: 08/01/2009

Many proposed technological solutions to future disasters involve the use of wireless cellular technology. However, these same networks become quickly saturated soon after a disaster and remain saturated for critical periods. This project will capture data on cell phone usage (and other communication modes) in terms of when, with whom (what relationship with subject), and for how long the calls take place, and whether the calls are incoming or outgoing. Such data should help in the modeling of communication network behavior in such situations and in understanding how such technologies may be utilized or extended in future emergencies in any community. The goal of this exploratory research is to capture time sensitive communications and other ephemeral data regarding the tragic events surrounding the Virginia Tech (VT) shootings on April 16, 2007. These data will be available for further analyses by multiple interested groups in order to plan for future emergency response and critical peer-to-peer communication.

Intellectual Merit: The intellectual merit of this exploratory research is two fold: 1) it contributes to the body of knowledge regarding emergency response and disaster management via mobile communication networks; and 2) it provides a model of communication behavior among ordinary citizens during the first 24 hours of a crisis. The data to be collected can be used to visualize communication patterns and emergency response networking, can reveal support networks for communication and information, and can lead to policy analysis and debate regarding mobile communication, emergency preparedness and response.

Broader Impact: The results from this study have the potential to affect the general public and emergency response groups in communities across the US. By understanding the citizen usage and network impact of mobile communication during a crisis in a geographic area, network overload can be mitigated while critical interpersonal communication can be accommodated. This research will also consider problems with the user interface for typing under duress on a small keyboard; and cell phone use by citizens with low computing or reading literacy (such as, the elderly, lower socioeconomic groups, and non-native English speakers) who may not be completely comfortable in English or in cell phone text usage.

Grant Institution: National Science Foundation

Amount: $126,873

People associated with this grant:

Andrea Kavanaugh
Francis Quek