Yasir Javed near Auckland's youngest volcano, Rangitoto.


Evacuating Auckland after an eruption

A Pakistani doctoral researcher who survived a massive earthquake that killed thousands in his homeland is developing computer software to coordinate emergency evacuations in the event of a volcanic eruption in Auckland.

Yasir Javed's research involves the design, implementation and evaluation of an internet-based package called Situation Aware Volcanic Eruption Reasoner (SAVER) to help emergency operations have a clear understanding of the disaster and the status of their resources in dealing with it.

The package is designed to provide a common platform, giving information to emergency services about the full picture of the disaster and status of emergency resources. Mr Javed began the project after an emergency exercise last year based on the occurrence of a volcanic eruption in Auckland revealed current emergency services do not have an integrated information management system. 

"This results in less effective means of data processing, information analysis, information integration and information sharing across the Civil Defence Emergency Management sector," he says. The result could mean a greater risk of lives being lost in a disaster through lack of coordination, something he hopes to prevent through his research.

"Within a radius of about 20 kilometres, centred on Auckland city, there are 49 discrete volcanoes," he says. "There is likely to be only a very short warning period, so it is important to be prepared for the evacuation of up to one million people."

Mr Javed was seeking a doctoral project on how to apply computer technology to managing disasters following his own experiences in Pakistan's deadly quake in 2005. It was centred near the city of Muzaffarabad in north Pakistan, killing an estimated 79,000 people with eight million directly affected in the aftermath. He was in the final semester of studying for his Bachelor of Information Technology (honours) at the University of COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Abbottabad, living not far from the scenes of devastation. He turned his knowledge to helping disaster victims by setting up a computer database of victims admitted to hospitals in Abbottabad so that survivors could trace missing or injured family members.

"I also volunteered to help in the rescue, relief and recovery operations helping with the reconstruction of homes destroyed in the earthquake," he says. He developed a system to collect data reporting on the progress in building new earthquake resistant homes, effectively streamlining a massive government exercise. "After these experiences, I realised I wanted to work with technology in these disaster scenarios to save lives. New Zealand is quite disaster-prone and it seemed the ideal place to do this kind of research."

Mr Javed is based at the Institute of Information and Mathematical Sciences at Massey's Albany campus and is collaborating with the University's Joint Centre for Disaster Research based in Wellington, as well as civil defence and emergency planners to develop the SAVER system. It will be tailor-made for Auckland's specific emergency needs, but could be adapted to any place or type of disaster.

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