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Researchers at York University have developed the Advanced Disaster, Emergency and Rapid Response Simulation initiative to speed responsiveness to disasters.supplied

When a major disaster affecting hundreds of thousands of people strikes, such as 2013’s massive flood in Calgary or ice storm in Toronto, determining how to best provide emergency services requires quick and effective decision-making.

Unfortunately, there are few systems in place that make disaster and emergency management (DEM) a streamlined process. Most emergency operations need better access to valuable information and tools so they can effectively address risk mitigation, preparedness and response management. That’s why Ali Asgary, professor Jianhong Wu and their fellow researchers at York University have developed the Advanced Disaster, Emergency and Rapid Response Simulation (ADERSIM) initiative to study, evaluate and enhance DEM and to plan rapid response and continuity strategies. “As the numbers of disasters and emergencies increase – both industrial and environmental – we have to simultaneously enhance and expand our research, training and operations capacities,” says Dr. Asgary.

ADERSIM helps fill this gap by strengthening Canada’s DEM knowledge base and translating that into improved public safety. It does this in part through the DEM program at York, which is the first and only Canadian university to provide both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in this field. “Our grads are shaping the profession in Canada and demonstrating its importance,” says Dr. Asgary.

Most of the time, operations are co-ordinated based on people knowing each other and wanting to help, instead of using objective criteria.

Dr. Ali Asgary, York University researcher

After the ice storm hit, Toronto Hydro and Hydro One had to restore power to more than 800,000 customers. It was impossible to do so efficiently with their own resources so the companies asked for assistance from other utility companies. Dr. Asgary and his team examined such situations when assistance is requested and found “there’s an information gap in decision-making. Most of the time, operations are co-ordinated based on people knowing each other and wanting to help, instead of using objective criteria. There wasn’t a way to assess whether it’s efficient or feasible.” So help would often come, but could not be allocated effectively because no system was in place to co-ordinate that help or even know what resources they offered, resulting in wasted time, effort and money.

ADERSIM developed a decision-making application that gathers the information needed when calling on mutual assistance. An operations dashboard monitors the situation and shows what resources are available so that when requests for help are made, resources can be allocated and managed more efficiently and effectively. ADERSIM’s research findings continue to help enhance Canada’s disaster response system.

Similarly, ADERSIM helped the City of Vaughan’s Fire & Rescue Service to better evaluate its operations by simulating responses and using predictive analysis for its more than 10,000 emergency incidents annually. The results will help determine the placement and allocation of fire stations and other resources.

“Our research comes out of real needs and gives emergency operations practical ways to address their needs,” affirms Dr. Asgary.

To further support DEM, ADERSIM is now constructing a state-of-the-art, one-of-a-kind emergency operations centre funded by the Ontario Research Fund and York University, slated to open in late 2020. Through this centre, ADERSIM can provide real-time assistance during disasters by applying its research and providing much-needed information and direction in the field. “We’ll integrate operations with research and examine things as they happen,” says Dr. Asgary. “This is a completely new and different way to perform and apply research. We will be able to use our research to help in real time in real emergencies.”


Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.