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2011.12.19 > For Immediate Release
contact: Charley Reed - University Relations
phone: 402.554.2129 - email: cdreed@unomaha.edu

PKI Students Help Design 3-D Software Used in Disaster Preparedness Training

Omaha - A natural disaster, terrorist attack or biological outbreak in the heart of a major American city has been a popular movie plot point for decades. Within the past year, several students from the Peter Kiewit Institute (PKI) at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) have been developing virtual world scenarios and three-dimensional (3-D) objects that can be used to help prepare first responders and governmental organizations for the real thing.

Thanks to a $100,000 grant, nine recipients of the Walter Scott, Jr. Scholarship, which covers university fees, materials, room and board for PKI students, were invited to learn modeling and simulation by immersing themselves in a leading-edge virtual world platform from Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC).

The software, called OLIVE (On-Line Interactive Virtual Environment) is a tool that enables users to develop 3-D virtual worlds that can be used for collaboration; training and learning; rehearsals; and operational applications. OLIVE is used for anything from corporate meetings to large-scale search-and-rescue missions during crisis situations involving thousands of geographically disparate participants.

SAIC was the prime contractor for one of the largest recent, joint national preparedness events in U.S. history, a National Level Exercise (NLE), which is a White House-mandated annual exercise. The scenario was a 7.7 earthquake on the New Madrid Fault and exercised all levels of emergency response - local, county, state, regional and national, involving eight states and 14,000 participants.

OLIVE was used as the virtual operation center for collaboration and coordination of emergency response efforts in the scenario. The software supported real-time exercise feeds and provided the building damage visualization tool and video clips of geo-specific and geo-typical areas of damage.

“The city of Memphis was recreated three-dimensionally in OLIVE and at the push of a button the expected damage through the city could be visualized,” said Allison Baysa, a PKI liaison with SAIC. “It gave first responders an idea of what the overall damage would look like as well as an idea of the streets that could be potentially blocked due to falling buildings and other structures such as bridges and overpasses.”

Initially hired in April 2011, the Scott Scholars were originally tasked with learning the tool, identifying and documenting bugs and glitches. It didn’t take long before the students began to create their own advanced scenarios and in-world objects.

“As we started to look into the programming of OLIVE, we stumbled across programming languages we were not familiar with,” said John Oerter, one of the Scott Scholars hired to work with the software, in a PKI newsletter. “Instead of stopping there, we decided the only way to learn this stuff to teach ourselves and that’s what we did.”

As SAIC prepares for the launch of the cloud-based version 3.0 of OLIVE ─ described as “one of the most advanced virtual world environments available today” ─ these PKI students have learned to create everything from unique uniforms used to distinguish between military branches to standing up architectural drawings that an avatar can walk through.

According to SAIC, OLIVE 3.0 will be web-enabled software that can be accessed and used by people from all over the world. But no matter from where OLIVE is accessed, at least part of it will have its origins at PKI.

“OLIVE is where we get to see a concept we designed on canvas come to life,” said Jamie Gehringer, another OLIVE participant, in PKI’s newsletter. “Knowing that users from around the world will be using our creations is just awesome.”

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The University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is Nebraska’s metropolitan university. The core values of the institution place students at the center of all that the university does; call for the campus to strive for academic excellence; and promote community engagement that transforms and improves urban, regional, national and global life. UNO, inaugurated in 1968, emerged from the Municipal University of Omaha, established in 1931, which grew out of the University of Omaha founded in 1908.

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