Business and convergent technologies 25 – an open letter to UN-GAID regarding Haiti and its recent earthquake disaster
I was living in Guatemala on February 4, 1976 when it happened, hitting suddenly in the predawn hours. The ground began to shake, and with tremendous force – to this day I have no idea quite what drove me to do this but that night I found that I had gotten out of bed and started running out of the house before I was even awake – perhaps it was warning noises from the animals or the early transverse wave tremors before the big shock waves hit. But I was one of the lucky ones. And as bad as this was, Guatemala was lucky in a way too, as the worst of the damage and the bulk of the loss of life was in a very rural crescent of land about midway between Guatemala City and the Pacific coast – not in the center of their densely populated capital where mortality rates would have gone into the hundreds of thousands. Haiti was not so fortunate, if anything in an event of this type can be called that, and its capital has been devastated.
In 1976, the Internet was a still just dream for the future and so were wireless phones and other communications devises so common now –stuff for science fiction movies back then. Now the world has changed and wireless communications and information processing capabilities are both common, and of tremendous and growing sophistication. In 1976, so many technology generations ago, an organization like the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development would have been relegated to the sidelines. Such does not have to be the case now where computational and information processing capabilities, and the capacity to communicate to anywhere from anywhere have developed to the degree they have.
Much of what we have seen for immediate effects of this disaster, and about local responses to it have come from Skype video and voiceover feeds from private individuals, and from sites like Twitter and Facebook. If the best of what is happening can be instantly shared with the world through the instant and compelling media of ubiquitous computing and communications so can the worst. And so can the best of how we reach out to try to address the urgent and compelling needs of that worst, coming together to do so.
But local disconnected and ad hoc efforts can only go so far, and a more organized emergency ICT effort is needed, and that only begins with efforts like restoring airport control tower support for incoming airborne emergency relief. It only begins with addressing the immediate punch list of tasks and priorities like that. It means redeveloping communication for healthcare and other support systems and in helping people find and communicate with family in the face of widespread fears and grief.
• What can an agency like UN-GAID do, in coordination with other UN agencies, NGO’s and other organizations to contribute skills and experience and to organize effort in support of the larger relief effort here?
• Who should members of the Champions Network and other UN-GAID members turn to for organizational support and to quickly, effectively share information that can feed into an organized response?
I just sent out an email to the group of UN-GAID participants and have started getting back responses, also expressing a need for a more organized response. I quote one of them with:
“A well-planned and coordinated tech-related response to this devastation could perhaps serve as a model for other post-destruction responses. Clearly there will be a need for connectivity, equipment and practical ways to use ICT for the nation’s short- and long-term recovery.”
I agree completely and as this would be the prototype emergency response for UN-GAID and without systems or processes in place we will need time to organize, and with UN, NGO and other nonprofit, and with corporate participation. My proposal is that we take the first organizational steps now to get this initiative going so we can be ready to synch with other ongoing efforts as our specific contributions would make sense in the flow of things and really offer sustaining benefit.