Friday, September 19, 2014

Interoperability for Extreme Events

Greetings from the University of Sydney, where I am taking part in a Symposium on "Resilient Disaster Systems: Improving Service Delivery to Disaster Areas". This is being hosted by USyd's  Interoperability for Extreme Events Research Group (IEERG). My talk is late in the day on "Sahana: a practical information solution path for international disaster management". Michael Howden, CEO of the Sahana Software Foundation provided materials for my presentation, and he will be visiting Sydney in late November 2014. Professor Deborah Bunker heads the IEERG is also running a symposium in the UK in October.

The first presentation for the day is discussing some of the systems used for a recent explosion in the Sydney suburb of Roselle. The second presentation mentioned that there is an Inquiry into the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements (NDRRA), which allocates recovery for recovery between federal and states. One problem mentioned which has come up recently was asbestos risk after a fire.

One interesting comment in one presentation was about  making communities more resilient. Helping people meet their neighbours, so in a disaster they will know who can help, would be useful.

Statistics on where people got their information in recent bushfire showed that the official website is used mostly, followed by local radio. Social media was used by only a few percent of people. This raises a resourcing issue for emergency organisations: they may be better off spending more money on their website and connections to the media, even though this is not a seen as glamorous as use of social media.

One issue which came up was how to make official online communications look credible.  In 2004 I had a student prepare criteria for making an emergency web page look credible. See: "Evaluating Emergency Management Websites".

Late in the day the topic of terminology came up. Someone from the Red Cross commented they got invited to speak at IT events on "Emergency Management", but that has a whole different meaning in the IT field. I looked up the SFIA Skills and found that the closest term in the IT area was "Availability management".

Much of the discussion today assumes that Internet access, mostly via mobile networks, is available in an emergency. A parliamentary Inquiry looked at  a “Priority over-ride service", so emergency service workers could use the mobile service in an emergency. As far as I can see no action was taken on this. Rather than have some sort of manually prepared master list of key personnel's phone numbers, it would seem to me simpler to have all mobile phones issued to government employees and those from service companies (energy, telecommunications, medical services and supply companies).

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