Technology and disaster management.

One of the big problems in the New Orleans area right now–perhaps the biggest problem–is figuring out what needs doing, and how to do it. Even with accurate information, relief agencies like FEMA and the Red Cross are clearly having difficulty synthesizing that data, formulating a plan, and following through in an organized way.

One of computing pioneer Doug Engelbart’s causes has been making computers better able to help us deal with complicated situations like this. Here he is, speaking in 2002 about the computers and disaster relief:

One organization that we work with is the Global Disaster Information Network – or “GDIN” – which is, itself, a consortium of regional and local disaster response organizations. Organizations that respond to disasters are tremendous examples of organizations that must learn to adapt and use new information quickly. …

Computers and, in particular, the Internet, clearly play a key role in the efforts to coordinate such disaster response and to improve the ability to improve over the lifecycle of a disaster response effort. But what is striking, as GDIN grapples with these issues, is how difficult it is to harness all the wonderful capability of the systems that we have today in GDIN’s effort to improve its ability to improve disaster response. …

Make no mistake about it, GDIN and its member disaster response organizations find computers to be very useful – but it is even more striking how the capabilities offered by today’s personal productivity and publishing systems are mismatched to the needs of these organizations as they work to coordinate effective response flexibly and quickly.

In the absence of real tools for coordinated action, we fall back on bulletin boards. We can do better than that, people.

Technology and disaster management.

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