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Emergency Sensing UMaine informatics research is helping the Maine National Guard create an improved disaster relief information system by Margaret Nagle
Ice Storm

A postal carrier makes his appointed rounds despite the tangle of trees and wires along his route in Bangor, Maine, during Ice Storm '98. Ice storms and flooding are two of the worst natural disasters emergency management personnel face in Maine. Photo by Kevin Bennett, courtesy of the Bangor Daily News.

In his 13 years of engineering work in such diverse parts of the world as Alaska and Missouri, the Marshall Islands and Iraq, University of Maine Ph.D. student Jake Emerson has seen the difference effective communication can make in disaster relief.

He also knows how difficult it can be to achieve.

“I’ve seen the difficulties engineers have when trying to understand dynamic environments, and emergency management is a perfect example,” says Emerson, who spent eight years in the Army Corps of Engineers and five years in the flood warning industry in Colorado. “With so many things going on in the world, an individual can’t understand it all at any one time. That’s why we need to build systems that help with knowing, prioritizing and reacting to the environment to keep you safe. It’s understanding that informs you how to behave.”

When Emerson came back to Maine nearly two years ago, it was with the intention of applying what he’s learned around the globe to help communities throughout the state like his hometown of Wayne.

“Emergency response happens at the local level, then goes up from there,” says Emerson, who earned his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from West Point and his master’s in environmental engineering from Missouri University of Science and Technology. “We do need to rely on state and federal governments to help us, but they are not the first lines of defense. If Maine can put together systems enabling towns and counties to share information so they can make decisions instead of waiting for others to make them, it will be better off.”

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Spring 2010

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