When I was in Pakistan one month after the quake, I met with multiple groups involved in information sharing among the various thousands (literally) of NGOs and governmental groups. Basically there were no effective electronic means of communication. The only meaningful communication took place P2P as people called each other or in the daily and weekly meetings held at the two army centers in the region. Each center had a large tent with different transparencies, such as "destroyed schools," "destroyed mosques," or "destroyed hospitals" or "road blockages." The key data on these transparencies was not even communicated to the outside world in any regular process.
Delays and duplication of efforts resulted and lives were lost because of the lack of meaningful communication. Even today, communication in the zone is quite limited in terms of any open, shared channels. FYI, the cell phones in most of Kashmir worked even immediately after the quake.
The only open platform for sharing information came out of University Lahore where some students and professors put together a solution called "RisePak." Yet without the army using it or recommending it, or the Federal Relief Commission (FRC) doing this, it gained little traction. Yet it represents the beginning of a good prototype.
In any event, here is what the Army, the FRC and RisePak said was needed:
- an open GPS system where notes on the disaster could be entered by GPS coordinate or by town or city or road name.
- a system where data could be contributed through multiple devices: web browser, cell phone SMS or calls (primary means of input), email and fax. They believe that SMS will be the most important tool in the first days of any disaster.
- ability to view the data on different layers over the topology (like the transparencies in the arm tent)
- their specific request was to have Google open up new free public layers on Google Earth and the FRC asked for private layers which they would pay for. Their could be different layers for roads, schools, hospitals, patients, water, etc.
- [could] a wiki could somehow intersect with a GPS mapping system to enable richer data sharing.
Monday, June 12, 2006
Concept from Rod Beckstrom
Rod Beckstrom, prominent Silicon Valley tech executive, was in Pakistan during the great quake (although not in the quake zone when the big one hit). He passed along some interesting requirements that are well worth thinking about. I am sure that Rod's concept is doable: may be being done already deep inside Google! Here are the comments I received from Rod: