Time for Emergency Response System 2.0

On August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast becoming the costliest and one of the deadliest natural disasters in United States history. Many remember FEMA, state and local officials nervously struggling with the scale of the disaster while the human suffering and toll was making national and international headlines. In the aftermath, serious questions were raised regarding US preparedness.

Here’s the problem with natural disasters: they are random events and no amount of planning is sufficient. The best conceivable responses manage the impact through effective situational command and coordination of personnel and resources leading up to, during, and especially after the disaster. Proper response and optimal decisioning demands real time access to the information, ideas, and approaches to deal with these highly unpredictable and fluid situations. In New Orleans, FEMA needed every conceivable idea and potential solution for temporary housing, better food distribution, people transport, and flooding containment. The opportunity costs of ideas not surfaced or considered early in these emergency situations could be substantial. The current pandemic threat should serve as a vivid reminder that we need conventional and unconventional thinking to respond to challenges ahead.

The rapid evolution of communications, crowdsourcing, and social networking technologies has created an extraordinary opportunity to significantly advance the tools available to organizations that engage in the most serious of these disasters. FEMA, Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), Red Cross and others needs to pay particular attention to the potential of these technologies to significantly improve the effectiveness of response efforts.

Many storied examples already exist like users “Twittering” critical information from the front lines of the California wildfires, globalgiving.org quickly raising and routing donations for reconstruction of clinics after natural disasters, and online communities self organizing to fill vital communications needs in times of emergency. A few days ago, InnoCentive posted a Challenge to quickly identify whether airport passenger screening can be enhanced to detect contagions, clearly a response to H1N1 Influenza pandemic concerns.

InnoCentive is committed to making its InnoCentive.com crowdsourcing capability and access to its 175,000 strong Global Solver Community available “on demand” to work with disaster response agencies. Coupled with other Web 2.0 providers, FEMA and other organizations could have instantaneous access to hundreds of thousands of virtual responders, including scientists, engineers, healthcare professionals, and others … all ready, willing, and able to lend much needed support.

These systems could be “hard wired” for use by selected agencies and organizations in times of natural or manmade disaster, dramatically improving response effectiveness. This Emergency Response 2.0 Toolkit should be developed and orchestrated BEFORE the next natural disaster.

We call on FEMA and other agencies to survey the landscape of communication, crowdsourcing, and social networking tools available and to put in place the strategies, linkages, and training necessary to immediately leverage these capabilities in times of need. Let’s not wait until next Hurricane Katrina, Tsunami, Earthquake, or Global Pandemic to recognize the ability of people everywhere to have an extraordinarily positive impact in these Emergency Response situations.

Dwayne Spradlin
CEO, InnoCentive

14 replies
  1. Mariam
    Mariam says:

    I think one of the things standing in the way of overcoming a medical disaster is the drug prescription requirement system. While I can understand the need to monitor drugs, the need to prevent people from making assumptions about when to use them, and the need to stop people from abusing them, treatments are most effective at the onset of disease ( this is true for pretty much all diseases from the common cold to the more serious like cancer.) Pharmacists know drugs as well as any doctor does and can at times make better decisions for us since they know all the drugs we are on (provided the drugs are bought at the same pharmacy which they usually are), while we may at times forget to tell our doctors our pharmacists will have all our meds on record.
    Most people don’t go to ER at the onset of respiratory ailments and if the onset is at night which tends to be when the respiratory sytem is weakest that puts a delay on treatment time. I think pharmacisits should be able to give non-addictive prescription meds (quantity should be one or two doses on weeknight and 1-8 depending on the time and day of weekend onset) at night when medical centers are closed. Unfortunately, I don’t believe pharmacists will ever be given that power.
    My personal solution to this has been to ask my doctors and childrens’ doctors for one or two days of extra meds to keep in the fridge for emergency purposes. As soon as my children get sick, I give them their prescribed antimucolitics, decongestants and when necessary bronchiodilators and I then take them to the hospital in the morning when the doctor gives them additional meds and antibiotics when needed. with two exceptions over the past 11 years our respiratory illnesses have never lasted more than 4 days. Before I started doing this we use to get sick for two weeks.

  2. Benjamin
    Benjamin says:

    Much of the reason that Katrina response was a disaster was because the emergency response system was run by Bush political appointees who had little expertise in the field. People are the most important part of such a response system. Technology is great and can enhance things tremendously, but there is no substitute for talented people with lots of relevant experience to do the job with competence.

  3. Karean
    Karean says:

    In reference to the comment about the Bush administration with “little expertise in the field”, consider that at the time we hadn’t had a similar hurricane since Galvaston at the turn of the century. OK, we probably didn’t have many centogenarians still working in the emergency response teams. But, I think that’s OK and a reality that we need to work with. Unfortunately, the nature of unexpected disasters is that we don’t have experience with them (otherwise, they’d be treated as routine).

    I think that the real problem in preparing for crisis is that we need to balance the thought of “that would probably never happen” against spending too much effort on the unlikely critical events. The real problem with Katrina was more with the disbelief of the eminent problem. We were slow to pull the trigger on the emergency response deployment with good reason. If we had and nothing came of it, there would have been a major backlash of the people criticizing the government for spending too much money and getting people worked up needlessly. (Sound familiar to our criticisms of how the H1N1 is being handled???) Unfortunately, the problem is more in our nature to criticize leaders – which may be what we really need to work on.

    Regarding a positive thing that I think we should all do is to be prepared to have a general plan for carrying on in case of disaster. Businesses as well as homes should have continuity plans for how they can continue to function in case regular operations are disrupted. For example, how could a company keep business operations running if their employees have limited access to facilities. How would you retrieve your kids and perhaps shift to a new location (e.g. stay with friends or family) if you had a fire, flood or other natural disaster. Oh, and anyone living within 10miles of a power plant should have a plan thought thru, know how to deploy, then rest easy knowing that they know what to do if the situation ever arises.

    I also want to commend the folks who responded to the blog earlier with some great ideas already.

    The problem isn’t whether crises and disasters will happen. They will in some form or another. We just don’t know what will happen when. The challenge is to be prepared so you know what to do. The bonus is that sometimes major shake ups can create an opportunity to change what could be working better, but there previously was not impetus for making change. (example; would we even be thinking about this now if it weren’t for the recent H1N1?)

    Everyone reading this blog is the cream of the crop in intellegence. Let’s lead with some creative thinking. I think this group can come up with some great thoughts to help out each other and to help the greater communities.

    Rather than complaining about what hasn’t worked in the past, reflect upon what has worked and what might be able to work better. After all, isn’t that the spirit of the Innocentive program?

  4. BJ Pemberton
    BJ Pemberton says:

    I believe a solution to emergency housing during flood, fire, or homelessness, is very simple.

    Start with any size pop up tent, made of fireproof material, with a flotation device sewn into the floor. Zipper pockets inside the tent will already carry, dried nuts or granola mix, and a small water filtering pump could be attached to a hose inside the tent. No cups needed, just suck on the hose, in case of flooding or sea water. A Filter would already be in place inside the lining of the tent. The tent material must not only be fire proof, but have a warming blanket, such as used in an ambulance, (those silver things). A string with a hook on the end could be used for fishing, ( have to eat it raw) and of coarse the whole thing would have to be waterproof. A slight awning at the top could be used to collect dew, as well, and drain it into an inside water pouch. As for the toilet, a supply of small waste basket bags, would suffice, as on can tie these to off keeping sanitary. Just throw our a biodegradable bag.

    That about does it, for the survival, temp shelter, or ‘Home in a Bag!”

  5. Chris LoSchiavo
    Chris LoSchiavo says:

    We are worried about natural disasters occurring in our individual parts of the world. Every time we try to prevent one occurrence we just seem to cause another, though. Think about it would Hurricane Katrina have killed so many people if we were not using a man-made structure to prevent nature from taking its course. There are levees and damns all over the world. 71.11% of the world is made up of water. When we stop the water from flowing there must be displacement somewhere. We need to worry about pandemics? There is disease all around us. Any day you can be walking around and by touching the wrong thing, you could get a terminal disease. Keep yourself clean and hope for the best, that is all you can do panic just causes more negative affect. Another natural disaster we would have to think about is the Super-Volcano, never know when that is going to erupt. Everyone in the mid-west dies. The people in New York all suffocate from sulfur inhalation. Should we put gas masks on every street corner in the entire Northeast. Who knows maybe alien life will come to this planet!!? They could bring disease and have advanced weaponry? Just like we did to the Indians. Are we prepared for that?
    The dollar is down and prices are rising. Unless the stock market goes back up we could go into a second Great Depression. Are we prepared to stop history from repeating itself? Have we learned enough from our past to prevent a Hitler Motif?


  6. PB
    PB says:

    Much of the reason that Katrina response was a disaster was because the emergency response system was run by Bush political appointees who had little expertise in the field. People are the most important part of such a response system. Technology is great and can enhance things tremendously, but there is no substitute for talented people with lots of relevant experience to do the job with competence.

  7. Thomas Smalling
    Thomas Smalling says:

    The real reason for the failure to mitigate Katrina’s effect earlier and more effectively is quite simple. Inaction and apathy. First, for whatever reason-good or bad-people did not respond to the call for evacualtion as they should have. Second, the elected leaders did not act in advance to prevent disaster by removing people from harm’s way. Third, the response by elected officials was too little, too slow.
    The primary problem of running a nation of independant individuals with rights of self-determination is they may well determine to do the wrong thing. Either disbelief or inability to act leads to failure to protect one’s self. The elected officials will only act in ways which are least likely to bring harm, blame or recrimination upon themselves.
    The solution is to appoint individuals unafraid to act to assume emergency command in disasters. These people must not be in a position where they must protect their own career and interests above responding correctly and quickly. If they do err (and who will not?) they must not be punished if the net result is is highly positive. The trick will be in granting authority above individual rights and elected official’s agendas in advance and accepting it when placed in effect. Martial law and abuse of postion comes to mind, but if we are unable to act without this sort of overarching authority, we must design a transitional system which avoids as much as possible excesses during disaster responses and return to normal protocol afterwards.

  8. Constantin Mihailescu
    Constantin Mihailescu says:

    It was a natural disaster, unpredicted. Looking for experience in this kind of events? It happens once or twice in one hundred years. In my opinion politics does not have to do anything with it. It is a matter of responce to the event. Responding fast, inteligent and taking the right decision in a matter of seconds does not have anything in common with party affiliation. The local authority reacted slow and undecided which way to go.

  9. Alvin Brown
    Alvin Brown says:

    Personally, I agree with Thomas in regards to inaction and apathy. I think we all should be accountable for our own responsiveness and preparedness. Now that doesn’t mean the government has a free pass to ignore their emergency preparedness and response duties. However, I believe a true solution lies in bringing innovative, private-citizen services such as WeAreSafeAndSound.com to the forefront to remedy situations such as the Katrina mishaps. Disasters and emergencies are going to always happen, but the challenge is being prudent in seeing the challenges ahead and planning/executing accordingly to offset the risk in suffering deadly, uncalled for consequences.

  10. Alise Waldo
    Alise Waldo says:

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  11. vaughn nebeker
    vaughn nebeker says:

    Bob Dudley Presadent [BP] Britsh patroluem gave a kill well request.
    That 8″ baloon is sent down 6″ pipe deflated. when inflated it stop’s the gas & oil flow, then 150 ‘feet heavy driller mud is used , with 1,500’ feet concreat set in behind it. Then the bloon then is deflated. Then Bob dudley has a dead oil well. The last time I killed a oil well was in the rebellia oil feald Quatiee in desert storm. What left the billing for killing the well. Bill at $987,000,000.00 at 98% intrest.


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