Researchers create meta-search engine to help locate displaced people

09/13/05

RUSTON -- Louisiana Tech has reached further in its help to Katrina victims, this time through technology.

Dr. Box Leangsuksun, an associate professor of computer science, along with five computer science graduate students, has created a new Web site aimed at locating people displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

His hope is that the site will help streamline the search process. Other sites are available that perform similar tasks, he said, but they contain so much information that users can be stymied.

"Our job is to simplify (the process) so the user doesn't have to navigate through so much data," he said.

Leangsuksun said work on the search engine began because he couldn't ignore his desire to help others.

"After the hurricane hit, I kept watching TV and feeling depressed," he said. "I was in Thailand during the tsunami, and I felt bad because I had to come back to teach and couldn't help. I thought we should do something here to help the hurricane victims in some way. I feel like this is my second chance to help people."

Leangsuksun and the Extreme Computing Research Group began working on www.searchkatrina.org Sept. 2, and it was up and running five days later. The group members are Anand Tikotekar, Kshitij Limaye, Kiriti Munganuru, Sunil Sudhakar, Yudan Liu and Arpan Darivemula. All are originally from India except Liu, who is from China.

Though the team put in long hours and worked nonstop through the weekend, Leangsuksun said they feel good.

"If we can help one or two people find their loved ones, it's worth the hard work," he said.

Noting the site's user friendliness, Leangsuksun said, "Simple is beautiful."

The group agreed.

"If a name is not found in our database, the user is directed to another link. From there the user just has to click," Limaye said. "We wanted the people to have fewer difficulties."

The site combs numerous databases of sites containing lists of evacuees. Users can also register their information with the site. In some cases, the Web site provides locations of where the victims evacuated to and an update on their safety.

Leangsuksun said since the site was launched it has had close to 1,000 hits, and he hopes updating it will allow more victims to find their loved ones.

"We just want to continue to spread the word," he said, "and hopefully the work we've done will be useful." Leangsuksun said he is spreading word of the site through the Louisiana Board of Regents, the media and other contacts.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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-- Helen Keller