Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Monday, January 10, 2005
 
Text Messaging & Disaster Relief

After some of my blogging about the Tsunami, commenters Michael and Scott have pointed out an interesting truism in the nonprofit/service world: people always want to build something new rather than improve what's out there. In my second blog item on the Tsunami, I somewhat gushingly proposed a server script that automatically translates undersea earthquake signals into cell phone calls, paging out warnings. Hopefully the web can help people working in parallel catch up with each other, and if there's any good to be drawn out of a disaster, it might be that the increased news coverage helps to bring these innovators together. Ganesh Blog pointed me to this BBC article by Clark Boyd about the efforts of Taran Rampersad in the Carribean, Dan Lane in Britain, and others who are now working on Alert Retriveal Cache--an idea that Rampersad already had from back when hurricane Ivan hit his country.
Mr Rampersad said: "Imagine if an aid worker in the field spotted a need for water purification tablets, and had a central place to send a text message to that effect. "He can message the server, so the server can send out an e-mail message and human or machine moderators can e-mail aid agencies and get it out in the ield." . . .The idea is to use open-source software - software can be used by anyone without commercial restraint - and a far-flung network of talent to create a system that links those in need with those who can help.
"This is a classic smart mobs situation where you have people self-organizing into larger enterprise to do things that benefit other people," says Paul Saffo, a director at the California-based Institute for the Future.
Jude at Iddybudy has a thorough post also detailing this technological collaboration, and she pointed me to Taran's own blog--it's fascinating to read an interviewee's post-interview wrap-up. Obviously, he's got lots of fascinating detail on the potential of mass media warning systems. Yesterday he went over a New Scientist article on the subject, pointing out that there's greater reach and stability with multiple systems that complement each other. "For example, the SMS broadcast could be sent to an email list of HAM operators, or even broadcast to specific people who are HAM operators in the region. The possibilities are limited to what is usable within the affected region." He also links to an amazing article at digitaldivide.net by Andy Carvin:
One of the first stories to hit home for me was that of Mr. Vijaykumar, a former volunteer at a telecenter in Nallavadu, India, run by the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation. Vijaykumar, who's now living in Singapore, received word of the tsunami well before anyone in southern India did. He called his family in Nallavadu, then called the telecenter. Another telecenter colleague living abroad, Mr. Gopu, did the same thing. Immediately the community sprung into action. Using the telecenter's public address system, local volunteers alerted fellow villagers. Among the 500 families in Nallavadu, 150 of their houses were destroyed -- yet no one died, because the telecenter responded to the imminent crisis at a time when no other local or national warning system was in place.
That's power.
 


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Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com

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Blogs I Read (Or Try To)
113th Street
american footprints(Nadezhda & Praktike)
ANNA's Diary
Apartment Therapy
Armchair Generalist
Back To Iraq 3.0 (Chris Albritton)
Dave Barry
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Dark Days Ahead
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Atanu Dey on India's Development (Deeshaa)
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Finding My Voice
Forsv
Neil Gaiman
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Geomblog
Green Ink!
Heliolith
Alexandra Huddleston
Iddybud (Jude Nagurney Camwell)
Indeterminacy
India Uncut
InSpiteOfEverything
Intel Dump: Phillip Carter et al
The Intersection (Chris Mooney)
Jesus Politics
John and Belle Have a Blog
Mark A. R. Kleiman
KnowProse (Taran Rampersad)
1Locana
Maenad (Nori Heikkinen)
Scott McCloud
Mind Without Borders
Electrolite: Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden
Corey Pein
Political Animal(Kevin Drum, formerly Calpundit)
Kevin G. Powell
QuakeHelp (South Asian Quake)
Radiation Persuasion (Nick)
Reneebop
Rhinocrisy
Scott Rosenberg(Salon.com)
Rox Populi
Felix(&Rhian)Salmon
samVaad
Nick Schager
Idea Spout: Daniel Sanchez
Sepia Mutiny
Amardeep Singh
Snarkmarket (Robin Sloan & Matt Thompson)
South-East Asian Earthquake and Tsunami Blog
SreeTips: New To Sree
Steprous (Bear)
Robert Stribley
Subjunctive.net:klog
Talking Points Memo: Joshua Micah Marshall
Tech Policy
TiffinBox
A Tiny Revolution
To The Teeth
TreeHugger
Unfogged
VatulBlog
Venk@
Manish Vij
Vinod's Blog
War and Piece
Nollind Whachell
Wonkette
WorldChanging
Matthew Yglesias:Old
Yglesias:Tpmcafe
Zoo Station:Reuben Abraham
Ethan Zuckerman
Zwichenzug



Some Categories

Blogs focusing on policy, politics, and national security:
Armchair Generalist
Back To Iraq 3.0 (Chris Albritton)
The Decembrist
Brad DeLong
Daniel Drezner
Eschaton(Atrios)
Green Ink!
Iddybud (Jude Nagurney Camwell)
Idea Spout: Daniel Sanchez
Informed Comment: Juan Cole
Intel Dump: Phillip Carter
The Intersection (Chris Mooney)
Irregular Analyses
Jesus Politics
Mark A. R. Kleiman
Liberals Against Terrorism(Nadezhda & Praktike)
Political Animal(Kevin Drum, formerly Calpundit)
Talking Points Memo: Joshua Micah Marshall
War and Piece
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Yglesias:Tpmcafe

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Daily Dose of Imagery
Ephemera
Alexandra Huddleston
Radiation Persuasion (Nick)
TiffinBox

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Apartment Therapy
Back To Iraq 3.0 (Chris Albritton)
Campaign Desk (CJR)
Ranajit Dam
Cyrus Farivar
Alexandra Huddleston
InSpiteOfEverything
Corey Pein
Nick Schager
Zoo Station:Reuben Abraham

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Scott McCloud


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