Information technology is now more vital than ever to emergency services.
Which is why Professor Timos Sellis's research into data management aims to deliver highly detailed information to frontline responders.
Sellis is researching ways to collect data on the move, otherwise known as positional streaming. "Positional streams is streaming data that carries position information," he says.
"Disaster management is very important in Australia and a lot of these applications need to know how people are moving in the city when they try to evacuate or they need to be directed during an evacuation. So it's all based on streaming information that you collect about people moving."
Sellis is a leader in the field of spatiotemporal database systems - a computer science niche set to become increasingly important in an age where people commonly use global positioning systems on apps, either for social networking, such as Facebook and Foursquare, or for navigation and transport.
The flow of information used and created by people as they move about can be used in a variety of ways, says Sellis. "It's an interesting area because more and more applications are based on spatiotemporal information," he says.
"It would help us understand where people go to at certain times of the day, which areas are the hottest. This would help, for example, the authorities work out traffic patterns."
Sellis came to RMIT in 2012 from his homeland of Greece, where he headed the Institute for the Management of Information Systems at Research Center Athena.
He holds a Master degree from Harvard University and a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. He taught at the University of Maryland, during which time he won a Presidential Young Investigator award, granted by the US President.
"When the Head of Computer Science and Information Technology at RMIT raised the possibility of me moving here, I discussed it with my wife and I think it was the fastest decision I've made in my life," he says.
"The thing that attracted me here is it seems like the University is making the effort to build a group in data management."
A sign of this progress is that Sellis and his team are working on the European-based "SemData" project, which deals with the growing area of semantic data management.
They are collaborating with researchers from 12 institutions in 10 countries on the project, supported through the Marie Curie International Research Staff Exchange Scheme.
Big data, or the management of large and complex collections of data, is the hottest topic in information technology. Some IT academics claim big data will have a huge impact on the fourth paradigm of science, after the first three paradigms: experimental, theoretical and computational science.
"Big data refers to the combination of a lot of data, a lot of streaming data and data integration," Sellis says. "With big data analysis and mining, you can figure out what's happening and make new discoveries."
Sellis has devoted more than 20 years to his research in data management and in 2009 his work was recognised by becoming a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
More recently he was recognised as a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery. This prestigious award is awarded to 1 per cent of renowned computer scientists around the world each year.
Story: Kate Jones
Photo: Carla Gottgens
This story was first published in RMIT's Making Connections magazine.