Saturday, February 17, 2007

Formalize Internet Community Tools during a Disaster?

An article published in Science magazine and noted here Blogs to the Rescue! recommends we formalize through either government or NGOs the use of blogs,web sites, wikis, etc that volunteer communities and concerned citizens who are on the ground during an event are creating. Apparently, (big surprise on this one) it isn't MSM that breaks the stories or gets the news out but rather regular folks with their camcorders and a bit of knowledge of how to leverage internet community tools to communicate during a disaster. The rationale for formalizing beyond the existing emergency disaster tools what has been (to date) a pretty successful volunteer effort is summed up in this paragraph:

"Web-based volunteer efforts can have drawbacks, Das adds. The initial enthusiasm of volunteers often wears off after the initial relief operation moves on to the slower rehabilitation phase. "Its hard to keep up virtual interest in reporting over the long periods of time required. Volunteers can keep their spirits and energy levels high for a month, but not for three years."

My reaction is this: why would we want to see the same high energy levels at the three year mark we had during the first month of a disaster? The initial response is called "surge" for a reason. Concerned citizens with a willingness to help each other do exist and so far, have been able to find the tools they need to help out quickly. The immediate communication need is to notify the outside world that the community has faced a disaster, allow folks outside of the disaster area to communicate virtually and galvanize support to the troubled area or to let people within the disaster area communicate virtually when they can't connect face to face. I'm not getting why it is a problem that volunteers exhibit the good sense to not make a career out of maintaining a 24-hour volunteer reporting mentality after the crisis stage has passed and the slower rehabilitative stage has begun. In fact, given that we are in the second week of way too much coverage of a pretty inevitable death and a diapered drive, I'm thinking the MSM might want to take a page out of the volunteer's playbook.

The books that influence my thinking on this (along with my general irritation with the mindset of sustained crisis with a side order of "shock and awe" for stories that a few years ago wouldn't have been a blip on the local radio station) are The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast by Douglas Brinkley and The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki

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