Disasters Roundtable Abstract: Opportunities for Information and Technological Recovery
Opportunities for Information and Technological Recovery Abstract Disasters Roundtable Workshop #34 Washington, DC Mark Prutsalis Sahana Software FoundationDisasters have a devastating political, economic, social, and human impact on individuals andsocieties. As the trends of population growth and urbanization converge, the scale and impact ofdisasters will continue to grow. According to a recent UN and World Bank report, spending ondisasters will triple to an estimated $185 billion per year by 2100. Major earthquakes in Japanand New Zealand, floods in Thailand and Australia, and tornadoes in the United States, made2011 the costliest year ever for natural disasters. Recovery from major disasters such as thesetakes years, long after media attention has waned, public donations to charitable organizationshave dried up, and information is no longer easily shared between those organizations with data,and those who need it.Recent international disaster responses such as those to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti or the 2011Sendai earthquake and tsunami in Japan can inform understanding of information andtechnological recovery. Yet, it has been challenging to apply the international context to U.S.disaster planning because domestic organizing principles (e.g., the National ResponseFramework) and capabilities (e.g., a highly specialized and professionalized emergencymanagement sector) have differed greatly from the rest of the world. But the rate of adoption ofnew technologies, broadband wireless, smart phones, and surprisingly resilient wireless networkshas narrowed the gap between the U.S. and even the developing world.One best practice is building information systems based on open, published and widely used datastandards, which makes critical systems easier to recover and rebuild. Two years after theearthquake in Haiti, there is still no national registry of hospitals and health facilities thatincludes capacities and services offered — critical information to planning the recovery of thepublic health infrastructure. The original Ministry of Health records were transitioned to aproprietary system that was not sustainable, and succeeding efforts have not committed to anopen standard flexible enough to allow support for growth in the system by multiple agencies.Many recovery challenges can be addressed by broader information sharing agreements andMOUs established before a disaster occurs between entities with data and entities that will needit. Disasters can also serve as catalysts in greater information sharing between organizations; thisprovides a critical opportunity for recovery planning. During the crisis response phases of adisaster, the information floodgates open. High resolution satellite and other imagery isincreasingly freely released as a public good by both government and commercial entities;during recovery, when such data is just as critical, it is no longer available because it isconsidered sensitive, proprietary, and highly valuable commercially.
A technical community of interest around missing and found persons information reporting istaking a proactive approach in setting up an agreement on standards and data sharing betweensuch major stakeholders as the ICRC and American Red Cross with technology solutionsproviders including Google, Facebook, and Sahana. The agreed framework defines the datastandards upon which systems will be built, along with agreements of what information will beallowed as sharable between organizations and procedures for how to turn on and off shared databased on governance decisions and international standards for humanitarian actions, privacyconcerns and local and national laws.Finally, one of the biggest challenges is about how to accommodate spontaneous help from thepublic that is of unknown quality. Social media is not a panacea for our informationmanagement and real-time awareness needs; but we do need to understand how to appropriatelyleverage these technologies in recovery planning. The way to address this is throughmethodologies to categorize, validate, verify, assign weight to information gleaned from publicsources and build these measures into our decision-making support systems.