Wednesday, March 05, 2008

ETech: Disaster Tech

I'm in Disaster Tech: What is working and what is coming given by Jesse Robbins and Mikel Maron. They're examining how technology is used in mainstream emergency management.

Apparently disasters are really simple, and you don't have a lot of time to respond, so you pick the tools you have available and know will just work. After the disaster there will generally be a champion that emerges that takes the new technology that was used during the disaster, and pushes it forward, supports it, so it can be used for the next disaster.

Jesse is showing photographs of the damage done during Katrina, and pointing out that highway signs don't survive disasters that well. Apparently a lot of people started to rely on Google Maps, but of course that's less helpful when (for instance) bridges get destroyed.

ARC: Take the I-90 bridge..
Jesse: The bridge is destroyed.
ARC: No sir, Google says...
The model doesn't keep up with reality, the world changes too fast. So Mikel is involved with OpenStreetMap, and he feels that this is a better model for collecting geo-data, especially during a disaster.

One of the big challenges during a disaster is how you communicate, how do you tell people you're safe and well? One of the primary sources of data during the San Diego fire was twitters from Nate Ritter. The Red Cross has picked up on this...

Interestingly to the general public people think that anything accessed via a cell phone is as reliable as the core services, like dialing 911. That presents interesting technological adoption challenges.

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