The technologies for communicating and using information are highly interrelated, and this scheme is not intended to be rigid or perfectly consistent in applying a layered approach. To simplify discussion, the application area demands for computing and communications that are examined in this chapter are distributed somewhat arbitrarily among these four areas. A particular computing or communications application (e.g., tool, system) may span all of these levels—for example, an information system that helps a user answer a question. The system would assist by translating a need for information into a formal expression that automated systems can understand, identifying potential information sources (including the vast array of sources available across networks such as the Internet), formulating a search strategy, accessing multiple sources across the network, integrating the retrieved data consistent with the user's original requirement, displaying the results in a form appropriate to both the user's needs and the nature of the information, and interacting with the user to refine and repeat the search. This system would incorporate both information management and user-centered technologies, and these would rely on a supporting infrastructure of networking and computation.
Crisis management was selected as the focus for Workshops II and III in the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board's series of three workshops on high-performance computing and communications because crises place heavy demands on computing, communications, and information systems, and such systems have become crucial to providing necessary support in times of crisis. Crises are extreme events that cause significant disruption and put lives and property at risk. They require an immediate response, as well as coordinated application of resources, facilities, and efforts beyond those regularly available to handle routine problems. They can arise from many sources. Natural disasters such as major earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, and floods clearly can precipitate