Both NASA and satellites are circling the earth collecting billions of bits of information. San Diego State University delivers that date to the people who need it most.
When major disasters hit the world, millions of people rely on San Diego State for life-saving answers. It's called the Viz Lab, short for Visualization Laboratory, and along with a bounty of big screens, people are constantly trying to solve the world's toughest problems.
When a tsunami killed more than 150,000 people in Indonesia, the Viz Lab provided before and after images that allowed first responders to know what they were up against.
"The reason nobody called for help was all the leaders were dead," Visualization Center Co-Director Dr. Eric Frost said.
These maps save lives, because rescue crews rushing relief to victims on land knew in advance that a major road had been wiped away. The same vital information is available to ships arriving from sea. Not only was the harbor gone, but the pier that would have been used to tie up the boats.
"You can see the damage there in a profound way," Dr. Frost said.
When disaster strikes, the Viz Lab creates a website for that part of the world, at times attracting up to 10 million hits a day.
"If you can see what is taking place, you can then make decisions," Dr. Frost said.
After Hurricane Katrina, it was Dr. Frost and the Viz Lab that spotted an ocean-front casino with a large chunk of its blue roof missing, blocking a major four-lane highway.
"This ended up being something that that road was physically blocked for many weeks until they built a road around it," Dr. Frost said.
Here in the United States, the Viz Lab is not only tracking every wildfire currently burning, but which direction the fires are moving and how hot they are. All of this information is one-stop shopping for the world at an incredible bargain.
"All of this is free... all of this is freely served up to anybody," Dr. Frost said.
Imagine sitting inside a large library and the thousands of books inside that library. That's how much information the Viz Lab is crunching on a monthly basis.
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