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Research aids disaster response teams


Hemant Purohit is a graduate researcher and computational social scientist at the Ohio Center of Excellence in Knowledge-enabled Computing at Wright State University. He has been internationally honored for using his mastery of computing with
insights from social science to help with disaster relief.
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Wright State Newsroom

November 12, 2014

Computational social scientist


Student researcher Hemant Purohit wins international honor for using social media technology innovation to help disaster
relief
By Jim Hannah
james.hannah@wright.edu
November 7, 2014

Hemant Purohit, a graduate researcher and computational social scientist at Wright


States Ohio Center of Excellence in Knowledge-enabled Computing (Kno.e.sis),
honored for using social media to aid disaster relief.

As a young boy growing up in India, Hemant Purohit marveled at how his father would do his accounting work
using only a pencil and paper. But when Purohit was introduced to computers in the sixth grade, he saw the
future.
Today, Purohit is a graduate researcher and computational social scientist at the Ohio Center of Excellence in
Knowledge-enabled Computing (Kno.e.sis) at Wright State University. Along the way he used his mastery of
computing with insights from social science to harness the power of massive data from social media.
Focusing beyond interdisciplinary computing research as his profession, Purohit wondered how to make a
real impact on society by transforming research and development from an academic lab to the real world. This
passion led him to volunteer for and coordinate digital humanitarian responses during major disasters
worldwide, including the Uttarakhand floods in India, the Phailin cyclone and Typhoon Yolanda.
During the recent floods in the Jammu and Kashmir regions, Purohit and a team of coordinators also guided
digital volunteers using a tool developed at Kno.e.sis to disseminate prioritized relief needs as well as identify
actionable rescue requests and redirect to the militarys rescue-monitoring team, helping to save lives. Such
technology-assisted response efforts, supported by the Kno.e.sis SOCS team, have been covered by the
Hindustan Times, The Hindu and other media outlets.
With support from the National Science Foundation, Purohit and his interdisciplinary (computer science and
psychology), team led by Wright State professor Amit Sheth, the LexisNexis Ohio Eminent Scholar at
Kno.e.sis, are designing social media technology that will identify key situational awareness information and
prioritize for decision-makers in disaster relief.
Leveraging data from research and experience from voluntary disaster responses, Purohit proposed the idea

11/12/2014 10:58 AM

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of leveraging Social Media-based technology for disaster Coordination (SoMeC) in the Young Innovator
Competition Open Source Technologies for Disaster Management, sponsored by the International
Telecommunication Union, the United Nations Information and Communication Technologies agency. The
prestigious competition attracted 150 entries from around the world and featured a star-studded international
selection committee of humanitarians, scientists, businesspeople and social innovators.
Purohits SoMeC technology was one of two winners selected by the committee. A few months earlier, Purohit
was also selected as one of eight international fellows for the International Conference of Crisis Mappers, an
influential humanitarian technology event hosted by the United Nations in Nairobi, Kenya.
SoMeC is a web mobile application that automatically finds important people and organizations to engage on
social media in near-real time to improve situational awareness, timely spreading of prioritized needs such as
medical supplies and public engagement of disaster response organizations.
With the growing adoption of mobile, Internet and social network platforms, the app is designed to help
response organizations better connect and coordinate with citizens for relief management, rescue redirections
and countering rumors. Purohit also plans to use the technology on development issues.
Purohit grew up in Udaipur, India, and obtained his undergraduate degree in communication and computer
engineering, studying mobile, digital and analog communication at LNMIIT India.
In 2007, Purohit ran across a research paper written by Sheth and his team at Kno.e.sis. An exchange of
emails between the two led to an undergraduate research internship at Kno.e.sis for Purohit, who is now
working on his Ph.D. in computer science and engineering under Sheth.
By virtue of Kno.e.sis, Wright State has been ranked among the Top 10 in the world in the World Wide Web
area of research in computer science, according to Microsoft Academic Search. Kno.e.sis researchers have
been quoted in publications such as Time magazine and The Atlantic and mentioned in broadcasts by BBC
News and CNBC.
Sheth says the students who arrive at Kno.e.sis as undergraduates from a relatively narrow and focused
technical education turn into people able to see and tackle complex, challenging, real-world problems where
technology plays a role.
By leveraging his skills in computational social science, Purohit has decided to try to help curb another
important social problem gender-based violence. His goal is to design data-driven policy intervention in
collaboration with experts of the U.N. Population Fund.
Read more about Purohit at knoesis.org/researchers/hemant and Kno.e.sis at knoesis.org.
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