FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

How Collaboration Tools Can Save Lives

We think of online collaboration tools as a handy way to chat and share files in the office. But they can also prove to be lifesaving tools when applied in a crisis situation.

US Navy doctor Cmdr. Eric Rasmussen is a veteran of many disaster relief efforts, including the December 2004 tsunami that struck East Asia. Leading a series of collaborative experiments called Strong Angel in 2000 and 2004, Rasmussen found that collaborative tools were essential to coordinating disparate elements of a relief effort. Satellite-based Internet connections, virtual workspaces, document sharing and improvised data networks were all applied to the experiments. Coordination proved easier, and relief workers and materials could be brought on the scene more quickly and efficiently... saving lives in the process.

Unfortunately, the East Asian tsunami illustrated what could happen when the principles of Strong Angel could not be applied. Because various factions withheld information or did not leverage the tools they had in the best possible way, civilian and military relief teams had difficulty coordinating, resulting in errors and waste.

It's important to stress that bleeding-edge technology is not the issue here. Strong Angel emphasized the use of common, off-the-shelf technologies, as well as the processes needed to make them effective. Strong Angel also favored the use of low-bandwidth Internet connectivity, simulating the lack of network access that would typically accompany a regional emergency, particularly one in the developing world.

Source: Baseline