Jesse Robbins, Mikel Maron

We’re going to talk about how to innovate and how innovation in the disaster tech and how that can save lives. It’s really hard to innovate at times, the more experiences you are, the more resistant you are to take ideas from people with lots of passion but no experience. Geeks tend to think “We’re going ot think “We will save everybody with our great new teh!” but experienced people will say “You fools! you’re going to kill everyone!”

It is difficult to innovate, but there is a way to do it. We’ve spotted a pattern:

  1. Disaster
  2. Ad-Hoc Adaptation
  3. Championship
  4. Iterative Improvement

Please keep this in mind today.

“my story” (Jesse)


  • 1800+ Dead
  • Millions Displaced

I was a taskforce leader, we built and gave shelters. Used my american red cross, helped to serve 10s of thousands of people. Getting around was hard because signs had blown dodn. There was an adaptation of old GPS technology + Google Maps. Worked for everyone with Internet Access. Couple of small problems. I90 bridge had fallen in.


The problem is timeliness, it’s not a specific problem with the data providers, more a problem with updating and getting updates out. Here we’re talking years of delay with web maps updating. A year ago I pointed out that the bridge was still showing up. I blogged and it got media exposure and it was finally updated. A few weeks later the bridge was opened and again the web sites were out of data.

Champion: OpenStreetMap (OSM - updated are immediately available to everyone else.

Tweaks to the model if we don’t want to rely on the crowd for disasters. Perhaps take a branch of the map tahta only certain people will update.

Iteration: UN considering OSM

  • UNJLC Interagency Humanitarian Common Service
  • Starting to explore collaborative mapping
  • (still a long way to go)

We’ve done some experimenting and found some useful tweaks but the UN is slow moving and busy (with other disasters).

Showing a map of Burma. Has a small box on the bottom right saying “we need your help updating this map”.

Anti-pattern What if the technology isn’t championed and isn’t improved. Expectations can be let down and the lack of a champion can hinder a response.

Slide of Jim Grey - tragically went missing at sea. His friends used every innovative means to look for him. Digital Globe retrieved images, processed by Google, Amazon Mechanical Turk was used to coordinate searching. Unfortunately he was not found.

No champion. Public now believes that this is easily repeatable.

Iteration: Steve Fossett Search

  • Inadequate training for volunteer.
  • Many false positives.
  • People called SAR teams directly which hindered search. Lessons weren’t learnt from previously. There was no wasy to compae old imagery with new imagery. Volunteers weren’t given feedback.

Quote from Maj. Cynthia Ryan - see slides.

San Diego Wildfires: Nate Ritter twittered. Red Cross followed suit. InSTEDD released a service called SMS GeoChat, they were a champion. They also iterated it as InSTEDD + Humanlink to create a localized and specific kind of twitter using GeoChat for the reponse in Burma that may also be used in China.

So to review the bulletpoints. Someone needs to emerge as a champion and then it needs to be improved iteratively. The message is “Be Champions”

Disaster Tech

Technorati tags: disaster, where, where2.0, where2008