Wednesday, February 7, 2007

If catastrophe strikes tomorrow, are we ready?

Interesting article on CNET today about our preparedness of first responders to major catastrophes.

The real issue is communication and how to get all of the various agencies and groups working together quickly to maximize the benefit of the deployed resources and to do it quickly.

Depending on the level of catastrophe the initial response can make a difference of how long and the depth of suffering will incur to those affected.

We have seen similar issues in personal catastrophes like the James Kim story and there seems to be a strong need for a centralized communication hub that allows immediate coordination of response scaling from a local level all the way up to national and eventually globally.

Depending on the magnitude of the catastrophe there could be massive interference with our current communication infrastructure and capabilities. A robust and hardened solution is necessary and a worthwhile investment for the American public.

Another seemingly wasted resource is the army of volunteers that are eager to help out and lend assistance. Typically in the past this has been mainly recognized by the level of financial support that people have donated during and shortly after a crisis.

Today we are seeing a new type of support where people through the internet are banding together to provide ideas, clues, and actually do legwork to assist. The current search for Jim Gray is a prime example of thousands of volunteers teaming together on Amazon Mechanical Turk scanning and processing over 500,000 satellite images covering 3,500 sq miles of ocean and it was completed in 5 days!

Granted the current state of organized collaboration tools is primitive but I believe this is the beginning of a new wave of tools about to reach the Internet.

One individual I mentioned a lot is Joe Duck in Oregon who IMHO has really led a new beginning in blog communication to assist in a new way for national media grabbing search and rescues stories.

The James Kim story really took hold over at Joe's blog ( and literally every major figure involved in the story has commented there (over 10,000 posts so far). It could be argued whether the thread over at Joe's had any impact during the search (personally I think it did) but it surely had a major impact with the aftermath and allowed a lot of people, a place to express their opinions and brought closure to many issues that people were interested in and passionate about. Finally it has created a lot of ideas to help in future searches and it will be interesting to see what spawns from the efforts over there.

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