Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Creating societal as well as personal value through social networking

Posted in business and convergent technologies, social networking and business, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on January 16, 2010

I have suddenly found myself shelving my planned posting schedule for a while with current events I am involved in. That includes participation in the planning and activities of a United Nations agency that was first approved by the UN Secretary General in 2006 as a formal entity – the Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID where ICT stands for Information and Communications Technology). The goals and mission of this agency are to facilitate development and sharing of best practices and knowledge resources with a focus on ICT capabilities and implementation. The focus is on the less developed and bottom of the pyramid nations and regions and on creating critical information infrastructure needed for them to actively participate in the world community. These resources are vital under normal circumstances but in times of crisis such as a major natural disaster they constitute a life line and a core component to the infrastructure for any effective response of any type.

When the Haitian earthquake hit, I reached out to ask what UN-GAID was doing and to other members of the GAID community to find out about their plans for this, and to find out what was going to be done as a systematic effort to contribute to the developing emergency relief response. Others have also picked up on this and a dialog has developed, with action coming out of that in the form of committed resources and people to provide them.

I have now shared two open letters to this agency in this blog as postings, one coming out before the earthquake and long planned, and the second coming after the earthquake and added as a last minute change. I add a third such posting here, prefacing large excerpts of a letter I sent yesterday in preparation for a meeting Monday, with these comments.

From an email to Roberto Villarreal and others sent on 01-15-2010 in anticipation of an upcoming 01-18-2010 meeting at UN HQ in New York City.

“I work in information technology and in online community development now but this is as a second career where I began in the biological sciences, and in basic biomedical and clinical research. So permit me to cite as a very close analogy something from my past career here – the concept of the acute injury and that of the chronic injury.

“When someone suffers a major trauma – a fracture with ligament tears, a heart attack or a stroke for example, they and their healthcare providers face a limited window of opportunity where the intensity of potential damage has not fully set in yet and where early intervention could limit that. This is where the injury is deemed acute, and where easiest and best outcomes can sometimes be achieved.

“When this period is past, the situation changes and so do outcomes and options for treatment, and time frames needed for any given level of resolution and correction. The injury is now deemed to be chronic and both options and opportunities can shift completely.

“The acute injury phase for something like the earthquake in Haiti is probably primarily the first 24 to 48 hours after the initial massive tremors. That is when people trapped under fallen debris are most likely to be recoverable alive. That is the window where people are most likely to still have food and water – non-replenishable commodities in the aftermath and without support and rebuilding. That is the period before frustration turns to unrest, and all that brings with looting and worse with destruction of what is left, setting back any possible recover effort that much further for loss of basic infrastructure and social order to work from.

“Ideally we would be able to move in during the early acute phase in launching a disaster remediation effort but it is clear that absent a pre-established emergency response system we cannot do that this time. To borrow from a future conversation with a few brief points that would require:

• Developing pre-staged or at least pre-packaged emergency response supplies and equipment and probably with at least some palletized components.
• A list of personnel who can go in to apply that, which would be maintained and updated, and with information on who would be available where as well as for what.
• Organizational and behind the scenes support infrastructure.
• An options rich plan with many, many opportunities for switching to plan B or even to plan C as initial plan A initiatives prove not to be effective.
• Alliances and agreements, and buy-ins from all potential governmental and other organizations to enlist support, gather necessary information as quickly as possible, set up communications and networking channels and to make staging and other capabilities possible – fast.

“We can develop with those goals in mind for the future but for now we can only respond to the chronic stage that is rapidly settling in and scramble as necessary to build and maintain necessary infrastructure for the recovery effort. I think of issues of looting of recovery supplies, and of the need for security and protection for key personnel coming in to provide relief who might be seen as holding valuable resources in this regard. So all focus for this event should be on longer term, with opportunistic efforts made as appropriate where it is found that longer term complications can still be averted or limited.

“I would propose the following points for discussion in developing a punch list for what to do.

• Following through with efforts to bring in satellite-based systems for communications, and both for immediate logistical support and in bringing local police, healthcare and other resources back online. This begins as an important start with developing satellite uplink and related resources and getting them on-site and running but it also has to include connecting the last mile and the last few feet with emergency services, etc coming online.
• Providing direct communications and information development for local communities impacted by this disaster – initially at least through community focus point locations.
• Supporting other relief efforts with ICT expertise and hands on effort.
• This would need to be done with the approval and support of local and national governments for the impacted area.
• This would all be done in close coordination with organizations like CARICOM and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (e.g. for an event in the Caribbean), as well as with other UN agencies, NGO’s and private/corporate organizations offering help.
• As a resource for developing and managing ICT capabilities, an organization like GAID has the capability for serving as a central organizing hub for bringing and keeping everyone in the response effort on the same page.
• An organization like GAID would also be in a good position to serve as a repository of lessons learned expertise and of best practices developed and tested in the field.

“The big issue I see right now, or at least one of them is the need to set an immediate punch list of high priority tasks and goals with benchmarking to track progress and completion, and to identify where a plan B might be needed.”

As clarification and explanation of a few points in the above, I know the 24 to 48 hour time frame I propose above is arbitrary. I also know that delays in response that extend significantly past the 48 hour time point can double and even triple the overall mortality of such an event and I know from experience what it is like to watch people die because help cannot get there. We need to respond to this event as quickly and fully as we can where an agency like UN-GAID can make a positive difference. Beyond that we have to develop best practices and quick response capabilities built on them and on lessons learned in the field for next time. As anyone in a country like Haiti can tell you, there will be a next time. They have seen that next time arrive too many times just there. At any rate, here is my letter excerpt – actually more of a rapidly drafted white paper for immediate planning use and for Monday morning, day after tomorrow.

Why have I added it to this series? When I continually write of creating shared value through social networking and of the capacity for this in ubiquitous computing and communications, I have a lot more than just personal and direct interpersonal value in mind. I see this as enabling the creation of value that reaches across communities and societies. Ultimately, that is where true value in this will be found as a long term matter. But this had to serve as a basis for action and response that goes beyond the flow and sharing of information too. The good point is that good, effective social networking and good practices in ubiquitous computing and communications make that happen as an almost inevitable result too. There challenge, both here with this crisis and in general is in making that “almost” a “definite”. That is what we have to do here and now.

2 Responses

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  1. […] • An open letter to UN-GAID regarding Haiti and its recent earthquake disaster and • Creating societal as well as personal value through social networking. […]

  2. […] within the UN-GAID community and a need for that. I did mention and perhaps too much in passing in Creating Societal as Well as Personal Value through Social Networking the need to coordinate with and work with outside agencies and […]


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