CEHC Artificial Intelligence Competition Offers Cash Prizes to Student Teams

A student views a computer screen in front of a wall with a neon sign that says "AI."
UAlbany Information Science PhD student Radhakrishnan Venkatakrishnan conducts research from inside the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity’s AI in Complex Systems Lab. (Photo by Patrick Dodson)

By Mike Nolan

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 2, 2024) — Imagine a world where emergency managers can detect and respond to disasters in real time, or even prevent them before they happen. It may not be far from reality, thanks to emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning.

This week at the University at Albany, students will share their ideas on how AI can support emergency managers — and compete for cash prizes.

UAlbany’s College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity (CEHC), in partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), is hosting a “sandpit” exercise on Friday that will focus on the use of artificial intelligence to manage future emergencies.

The one-day competition, “AI2EM: Harnessing Artificial Intelligence to Manage Future Emergencies,” will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the ETEC research and development complex, challenging student teams from institutions across the Capital Region to develop and pitch new concepts for AI in emergency response. 

The top team will receive a $1,000 cash prize, second place will receive $500 and another $500 will be awarded to the team judged “most creative” in their proposed concept. Undergraduate (sophomore or above) and graduate students of all majors can sign up as individuals and be placed into a team or paired as a team of up to four members. Limited spots are available. Registration is required.

“Like many other industries, emergency management is evolving through artificial intelligence,” said Alex Greer, an associate professor in CEHC’s Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and event coordinator. “The idea here is to give students an emergency scenario and have them address it using AI or machine learning. We want them to think outside of the box and bring concepts to the table that can be applied during a real disaster.”

“We are excited to host a competition with our partners that allows students an opportunity to show off their expertise and creativity in artificial intelligence,” added Eric Best, an assistant professor in CEHC’s Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and event coordinator. “Proposed solutions will undergo evaluation by a panel of judges, providing competitors with insights into the real-world challenges of emergency response.”

The student teams will be provided with an emergency scenario on the morning of the exercise and spend the day developing an AI-based solution to improve the EOC (emergency operations center). 

They will present their concepts in the late afternoon, following a provided lunch break, in front of a panel of judges from DHS, PNNL, practicing emergency managers and UAlbany faculty. 

"My research interest is centered on the mitigation and recovery phase of disaster events,” said Ayesha Islam, a first-year PhD student in Information Science, who is participating in the competition. “Navigating the mitigation and recovery needs for communities is often challenging in the post-disaster context. I assume AI might be able to address some of these limitations. It has motivated me to participate in this event and explore how AI can blend with emergency management. "

The competition adds to a growing relationship between CEHC, PNNL and DHS to open new avenues for research collaboration and experiential learning opportunities.

Last summer, CEHC hosted close to a dozen representatives from PNNL and DHS for a full-day tour of ETEC, the home of the College and epicenter of UAlbany’s signature research strengths in climate science, emergency preparedness and cybersecurity. The day also included discussions with CEHC faculty on topics such as AI, the future of emergency management and opportunities for collaboration.

In 2022, CEHC launched a new partnership with PNNL to open new avenues for joint scientific exploration amongst faculty, researchers and students. The partnership offers opportunities to collaborate and share resources and infrastructure.