EL PASO, Texas (KTSM)- New Mexico State University researchers are working on creating a live streaming platform for first responders to innovate best practices to assist rescuers in saving lives during a disaster.

NMSU Computer Science Professor Phoebe Toups Dugas is the principal investigator for the project. Thanks to a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation, Toups Dugas is leading a team of researchers in designing a collection of open-source software and implementation processes for the research titled “Live Participatory Design Fiction” (LPDF).

“We’re trying to capitalize on the popularity of streaming and interactivity with live-streaming audiences, then apply that to designing future systems,” Toups Dugas said. “We could potentially build a platform where we can run through future scenarios and future technologies and simulate parts of them and act them out and then have a larger audience be able to participate and take on roles in those scenarios, making choices about how the simulation is going to play out.”

Co-principal investigator Bill Hamilton, NMSU computer science assistant professor, explained how the participation of the first responders in the live environment will help researchers more quickly test out best practices that rescuers may find useful in the field.
“What has been emerging with the use of live streaming social media platforms like Twitch or Facebook Live, is the idea that we can think through methods and technologies through live collaborative media that engages distributed practitioners who can be involved in the process of designing new tools for disaster responders,” Hamilton said.

Team member Nick LaLone, assistant professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and head of two organizations meant to foster emergency management technology integration, has been studying how people react to crisis.
“We’ve been trying to design new ways to help emergency responders and emergency management practitioners for 20 years,” LaLone said. “We’ve failed mostly due to the fact that the processes in place in emergency management don’t necessarily lend themselves to being creative or innovative, so I became a practitioner to become an observer, an ethnographer of sorts. What stood out to me is that, in this space, you have to change everything or you can’t change anything.”

Toups Dugas and LaLone have been working together in the area for years, being used to those kind of road blocks.

“LPDF will allow us to actually invite every emergency management practitioner in the country to come to the stream while we prototype some options to see if it meshes with their particular practice,” said LaLone, who is also the chair of the Emerging Technology Caucus of the International Association of Emergency Managers. “We want to see what works and what doesn’t. In the past, emergency management has resisted technology so this is an amazing opportunity to get them to sit down and talk to us all at once.”

Toups Dugas’ team, including NMSU graduate research assistants Preeti Maurya, Miguel Fernandez and Minhajuddin Ahmed, are currently building tools off an existing platform. They are designing some of the underlying technologies that will allow them to conduct distributed collaboration in a live streaming environment.
“Within the next year or so, we’ll have some interesting technologies and scenarios to work with first responders and start to get initial results, but we’d like to see this become an iterative process that is ongoing with practitioners,” Hamilton said.
Toups Dugas explained how she would like to see the LPDF system used to build the next generation of search and rescue systems for first responders, but her goals are broader than this one project.
“The payoffs of this process are in providing a collaborate way to design systems for a particular group for a particular purpose,” Toups Dugas said. “Having this kind of test bed to try out new things and learn what we can about disaster response is valuable. But it’s also about how we facilitate equitable participation, making sure we have people from many different groups, so they are all able to participate in the conversation.”

As part of the collaboration, a working group in the Emerging Technology Caucus is drawing up a list of first responder technologies and scenarios that need to change.
“I hope these will be the first technologies that emergency management actually wants – from their perspective – so that we can actually work with them to give them what they want, instead of selling them on technology after it’s been created,” LaLone said.