Patent Granted to Dr. Michelle Hamilton’s Emergency Response Software System

A recent article on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ERDC (Engineer Research and Development Center) website described how a patent was granted in September 2020 to  a system invented by CCRi’s Michelle Hamilton for Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis. The article, titled ERDC researcher excels as emergency responder software inventor,  describes how the Geo-centric Environment for Analysis and Reasoning (GEAR) system that built on her work is designed to help emergency responders prioritize key geolocations for support allocations and mitigation efforts. GEAR  has already helped the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ COVID-19 response and is being deployed for use in public health emergencies and other disaster response efforts.

Michelle is currently the Director of CCRi’s intelligence portfolio and has been with the company for three and a half years. She has a long history of research into the types of resource analysis that can improve large-scale disaster response. We asked her what inspired her creation of the GEAR system.

My PhD dissertation was focused on scenario-based risk analysis and decision making amongst decision makers with varying perspectives on complex problems. I took the same methods and theories and then applied them to a geospatial context once I joined ERDC’s Geospatial Research Laboratory. I had participated in disaster planning and preparedness research as a student at the University of Virginia’s Center for Risk Management of Engineering Systems, so I had always had an interest in developing tools and technology to help in this area.

What was the title of your PhD thesis?

My thesis title was Scenario-Based Preferences in Risk Analysis and Systems Engineering: Evolution through Time Frames. The basic concept of the research was that stakeholders who must make decisions on complex situations that involve uncertainty and tradeoffs across multiple criteria could use support to help them think through a problem in a structured manner.

Disasters are uncertain, unfolding situations which require expertise and input from many perspectives to make good decisions. Helping decision makers quickly connect to and manipulate data, and to share the output of their analysis with others, was the inspiration for the tool.

What was your role in the development of the software? For example, what sort of documents did you deliver to the people who did the coding?

Written descriptions and diagrams initially. Once the software was developed, I worked with the software development team in an agile framework to add and expand capabilities. I tested new capabilities as they came out and regularly provided feedback.

What was the biggest surprise for you in between first getting the idea and finally seeing the software go into production?

Honestly, the biggest surprise was that I described an idea during a summer internship, went back to school to finish my last year, and then came back a few months later to see actual working software. Being a long-time student, I never really got to see my ideas come to life in a new functioning piece of software before. This experience helped me make the decision to  pursue a career in industry where I could work side by-side with software developers.

What led you to join CCRI?

Don Brown was one of my professors as an undergrad  at UVA so CCRi was on my radar for a long time as a potential place to work in Charlottesville.  I knew a company like CCRi would push me to keep my skills and knowledge of emerging technology relevant and up-to-date. I wanted to be a part of a company that was making tools that users use every day.

What gets you excited about coming to work?

Being surrounded by people who are passionate about their work and the products we are making to support our users. I also appreciate being around people who are committed to helping each other grow in their careers.

If you could summarize your experience with CCRi in one word, what would it be?

Purposeful.

If you have advice for anyone considering CCRi or at CCRi, what would it be?

If you are passionate about solving real problems and getting new technology into the hands of users quickly, CCRi is a great place to work. You will grow quickly, have lots of opportunity to take on increasing levels of responsibility, and enjoy being surrounded by others who are passionate about their work. I think CCRi really tries to live its values, so if those resonate with you, then you should consider a career at CCRi.