Keynote Speakers

ISCRAM 2021 is proud to be able to offer conference attendees the opportunity to attend a series of dynamic Keynote Talks presented by experienced researchers and active practitioners with significant expertise in crisis and disaster management.

Monday - May 24th

Louise K. Comfort
Graduate School of Public and International Affairs
University of Pittsburgh

Designing Information Systems for Managing Global Crises: Paradox and Possibility

Abstract: The scope, scale, and complexity of information needed to manage global crises is demonstrated by the current pandemic precipitated by the novel coronavirus, SARSCoV2, or COVID-19. As nation after nation reeled from the rapid progression of the disease with its consequent rates of hospitalizations and deaths, decision makers struggled to gain timely, valid information about the characteristics of the disease, its origin, rate and mode of transmission, and patterns of interaction with other health conditions. In the absence of known information about the deadly virus, decision makers adopted varying strategies of managing the scant information available for the disease and seeking systematic methods to communicate information about the threat to the populations at risk. The paradox of information technology is that it communicates false rumors as quickly as valid information and adds the critical task of countering disinformation to the many other demands of crisis management. This paper briefly examines the uses of information technology in managing information communicated to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.

Louise K. Comfort is Professor and former Director of the Center for Disaster Management in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.

She is also an affiliated faculty member with the Policy Lab of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) at the University of California, Berkeley and Concurrent Professor in the School of Government, Nanjing University, in Nanjing, China. She is a Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration since 2006. She has published seven books, more than 100 research articles in refereed journals, and more than 25 book chapters on public policy, organizational design and analysis, and decision making under uncertainty. Her current research focuses on the interactive uses of information technology to support collective decision making in urgent events, using early tsunami detection and warning and wildfire evacuation operations as field study contexts.

Her most recent book is The Dynamics of Risk: Changing Technologies and Collective Action in Seismic Events, Princeton University Press, June 2019. She currently serves as Chief Editor, Social Sciences, for the Natural Hazards Review and on the Editorial Boards of the American Review of Public Administration and Public Organization Review.

Tuesday - May 25th

Brian Tomaszewski
Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences
Rochester Institute of Technology

Abdallah Ibrahim
Senior Associate Protection
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

ISCRAM for Empowerment: Lessons from the Refugee Geographic Information Systems project (RefuGIS) Of Jordan (2019-2020)

Abstract: Information systems for crisis response and management are often a series of tools, technologies and approaches available to people and organizations with a high amount of technical, educational, and professional capacity. However, often the actual survivors of long-term crisis events are the ones that would most benefit from having the capacity to use ISCRAM approaches. In this keynote, we will discuss our experiences from the Refugee Geographic Information Systems (RefuGIS) of Jordan. RefuGIS is the world's first project to empower refugees to utilize the power of Geographic Information Systems for livelihood development and decision-making in refugee camps and local communities. Since its initial inception in 2016, the project has now been expanded through additional support by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to include Syrian refugees and Jordanians who can both benefit from the project. Specifically, we discuss project developments between 2019-2020 that focused on new research centered on the use of maps for community decision-making plus our experiences with overcoming the challenges and identifying opportunities presented by the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Brian Tomaszewski directs the Center for Geographic Information Science and Technology at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, NY USA. He is also an Associate Professor in the School of Interactive Games and New Media at RIT and is an adjunct professor with the Centre for Disaster Management and Mitigation at the Vellore Institute of Technology, India.

His published research on geographic information science and technology, geographic visualization, spatial thinking, disaster management, and forced displacement has appeared in top scientific journals and conferences such as Information Visualization, Computers, Environment and Urban Systems, Computers and Geosciences, the IEEE Conference on Visual Analytics Science and Technology, the IEEE Conference on Global Humanitarian Technology, and The Cartographic Journal. The second edition of his book, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for Disaster Management, which is one of the first book-length treatments on the topic, is scheduled for publication in 2020 through Routledge Press. He is actively involved in international disaster management and refugee affairs research, with research projects funded by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) in Germany and Jordan as well as collaborations with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Rwanda and Jordan. Brian “grew up” in the ISCRAM community having attended the first ISCRAM Ph.D. summer school in 2006, co-creating the Geographic Information Science and Technology (GIS) paper track in 2007 that is still featured in the ISCRAM International Conference and co-chairing and hosting the 15th International ISCRAM Conference in 2018 in Rochester, NY USA.

Dr. Tomaszewski will be co-presenting with Mr. Abdallah Ibrahim, Senior Associate Protection, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Wednesday - May 26th

Michael J. Mulhare
Assistant Vice President - Emergency Management
Virginia Tech

Debbie Day
Associate Vice President for Alumni Relations
Virginia Tech

Mark Owczarski
Associate Vice President for University Relations
Virginia Tech

Response, Recovery and Resiliency: Actions Taken, Lessons Learned and Moving Forward following the Tragic Shooting at Virginia Tech, April 16, 2007

Abstract: The tragedy that befell Virginia Tech in April of 2007 was unprecedented, drawing worldwide attention. The speakers will discuss the organizational resiliency that was called upon during the days, weeks, months and years following the incident. Key topics include the need for transparency, effective leadership, working with impacted individuals and building upon existing practices and procedures. As September 11th changed emergency preparedness and management within state and local governments, the shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois changed higher education.

Mike Mulhare is the Assistant Vice President for Emergency Management at Virginia Tech, a comprehensive land-grant university with over 36,000 students and more than 13,000 faculty and staff members.

Mike came to Virginia Tech in 2008 to serve as the university’s first emergency management director. He is responsible for building and implementing a comprehensive emergency preparedness and response program, designed to continually improve institutional and individual readiness and resiliency. Under Mike’s leadership, Virginia Tech became the first university or college to receive national accreditation of its emergency management program.

Prior to joining Virginia Tech, Mike was the Emergency Response Administrator for the Rhode Island (USA) Department of Environmental Management. In that capacity he served as lead member of the Rhode Island State Incident Management Team. He is a registered professional engineer with over 30 years of practical experience as an emergency manager, first responder, and engineer. He received a Bachelor's degree from St. Joseph’s College of Maine and a Master of Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Rhode Island.

Mr. Mulhare will be presenting with Debbie Day, who is the Associate Vice President for Alumni Relations at Virginia Tech. She has served Virginia Tech and Alumni Relations for over 30 years. She began her career in the National Capital Region, establishing Virginia Tech’s first satellite office for alumni in 1987. She moved to Blacksburg in the mid-1990’s and has worked in a variety of areas within Alumni Relations including chapters programs, reunions, student programs, community service and diversity and inclusion.

She currently is the team leader for alumni directors in nine colleges and four units at Virginia Tech, including the Graduate School, Inclusion and Diversity, Student Affairs and the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets. Debbie was appointed Director of the Office of Recovery and Support in 2008 and continues to work with families and the university on matters related to the April 16 tragedy at Virginia Tech.

Also part of the presentation on Wednesday will be Mark Owczarski, the assistant vice president for university relations at Virginia Tech. In this role, he provides overall support for the senior associate vice president of university relations, specifically in the areas of university spokesperson, college and unit-based communications, and crisis communications.

During his 15 years at Virginia Tech, Mark has led university efforts to move communications products to digital platforms. Virginia Tech News ( is the university’s daily news services that leverages the web, email, social media, and multimedia platforms. In addition, his work in media relations has strengthened the university’s reputation as a leading research university. Widespread national and international media coverage of Virginia Tech’s work in high-speed computing, robotics, drones and autonomous vehicles, and clean drinking water and the Flint water crisis has contributed to this, as well as the recent announcement of the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus in Northern Virginia.


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