Problem 1: Answer 1

The Sahana Free and Open Source software has one big advantage over commercial products that help emergency management officials manage disaster events. That is that it is as its name suggests it cost nothing. Commercial products can cost thousands of dollars. I recently was awarded a grant for a disaster management system known as WebEOC for my county emergency management agency. The cost of the software was $55,000.00. I was excited to be awarded this grant, as it would not have been possible for me to purchase the software without grant funding. When the company representative contacted me about getting the program installed he asked if I had purchased the servers to run the program. I explained to him that this was a grant and I was under the impression that everything would be included for the software to be operational. After obtaining the specifications for required servers I learned that I would need $13,000.00 to $15,000 to purchase them. For my and many other small emergency management agencies this is an incredible amount of money to come up with when it was not budgeted. I fortunately was able to come up with the funding and the software is currently being installed. It will not end here. There will be annual maintenance fees and expansion packets in the future.

I bring this up to point out that there is a desperate need for Sahana Software. Emergency management agencies now have a viable alternative to the commercial products. The modules in the demo appear to be easy to use. One of the most needed modules in the program is the Missing Person Registry. In every major disaster people are separated from there loved ones. Families many times do not have a coordinated place on the web or otherwise to obtain information about those they care about. By using this program we can centralize this process. One of the best parts of the missing person registry is its ability to be searched by various means. Many of the registries that I have had exposure to in the past have had serious search limitations. If the Sahana program works as reported it will make locating and cataloging missing person in disaster a great deal more manageable. The ability to post pictures also cuts down on false finds on people with the same or similar names. The Sahana camps registry has similar benefits as the missing person registry. Managing numbers at shelters is difficult in even a small scale disaster. Various disaster response groups refer people to shelters that they know are open with the knowledge if the shelter is at of exceeding capacity. This module can curtail this problem and save grief and heartache of victims be sent from shelter to shelter looking for safe haven.

The other modules in the program have great promise. Without being more familiar with the program it is difficult to assess how they will work. They are designed to meet real needs. If people will take advantage of these other modules it will be of great benefit. I do have concerns over getting participation from all the players that will make their use a success. I may be cynical but too often I have seen turf battles get in the way getting the job done. The more time that passes from the disaster impact the more turf battles and lack of cooperation there be.

Problem 1, Answer 2

Ease of use I found the download and installation process to be confusing. I attempted to download the system on a desktop computer running Windows XP and had to install a previous version of WAMP to run the system. I was able to download WAMP but never got Sahana downloaded and operational. Part of this may have been my unfamiliarity with the technology/system and I believe in time I would have been successful. I support the concept of this system as a diverse disaster management system and applaud the developers for following through on a cost effective system. I found segments of the modules easy to use and relatively self-explanatory. For example, when I went in to ‘Search for a Person’, the system prompted me to enter ‘Any Card Number’ or ‘Any Name’. If I were a citizen searching for missing friends or relatives, I knew to enter a name. I assume the ‘Card Number’ is something issued to a displaced person when they arrive at a shelter or resource center.

Is the model useful and needed A system such as Sahana is long overdue. There are disasters of all types every day somewhere in the world and responders to such events are more international. With 24-hour media coverage and technology, emergency management partners are aware of incidents as they occur and the preparations to send aid are expedited. Sahana enables those affected by the disaster to provide critical information for response and recovery organizations in a timely manner as well as the organizations themselves to provide readiness and response information.

Having responded to South Florida after Hurricane Andrew (August 1994) and witnessed the confusion of not having a coordinated response system, I am quite pleased to see the progress that we’ve made. During the response phase of Hurricane Andrew, (LEOs) law enforcement (as well as many other first responders) from around the state and country converged on South Florida. There was no coordination of resources for the first few weeks, which caused a duplication of resources in certain areas while other areas lacked resources. A great example of where technology could have assisted was the geography. Street signs were non-existent in many communities; there was no power, and no viable communication systems. Once portable generators and mobile radio/repeater systems were set up, LEOs from other agencies had to be paired with local LEOs in order to know where they were. Current GIS technology would have been a great aid during this phase, especially with the ability to push information to and from handheld devices.

Fit for different disaster types In reviewing the system I found that it would be useful during a variety of large scale, multi-jurisdictional disaster events. My concern would be when an event starts locally and takes time to develop into a mutual aid event. A great example of this was the Beltway Sniper attacks around Washington DC in October 2002. The shootings occurred in multiple jurisdictions over a period of several days. Because they were treated as local law enforcement events, intelligence information was not shared between the involved agencies until several incidents had occurred. Using a system such as Sahana would be helpful once the scope of the attacks was determined but there would have been a delay in providing vital information into the system. In other words, at what point would local public safety turn to this system to share vital information?

Another potential disaster where information into the Sahana system might be delayed involves the release of a chemical or biological weapon. Let’s say terrorists release an airborne weapon on Main Street at Walt Disney World® outside Orlando, FL. Being an international destination, infected persons would carry and transmit the ‘disease’ to multiple locales throughout the world. How long would it take to realize where/when the source of outbreak occurred and at what point would organizations use Sahana to share information?

Problem 1, Answer 3

In order to conduct an analysis of the Sahana Disaster Management System, I accessed the demonstration version available at the website. In terms of both functionality and features, the Sahana system appears to be very well designed. It has components designed to address or provide: a missing persons registry, an organization registry, a request/pledge management system, a shelter registry, an inventory management system, a volunteer management system, and so on. Because one of the main ideas behind Sahana is to “enhance collaboration between diverse set of actors from Government, Emergency Management, NGOs, INGOs, spontaneous volunteers and victims themselves in responding effectively to a disaster”, I decided to evaluate the system on the basis of this goal. It would appear that, in their current form, most of the tools or “modules” available in the Sahana system are most useful to organizational actors. For instance, “inventory management” is something that is only useful to large organizations, and not at all useful to individuals. Even the missing persons registry, which on its face would appear to be the most accessible and useful to an affected population, is more likely to be utilized only indirectly through an organization… one can imagine an NGO setting up a booth at a shelter with a volunteer who is trained to help victims both search and post information to this module. Despite the stated intention of Sahana to enhance collaboration among and between both organizational actors and individuals (the “spontaneous volunteers” and “victims themselves” mentioned above), it seems that the usual bias toward organizations is still present. The organizational bias demonstrated here is very common. Organizations formed for the purpose of “managing” disasters or assisting victims are prone to overestimating their own importance in the “big picture” – both out of self-interest and due to conceptual reasons (it is human nature to view current and historical events in terms of “major actors” who are seen to shape those events, rather than to admit that those “major actors” may have had much less to do with the happenings than the less definable society at large). In reality, individuals acting alone and in small spontaneously forming groups who happen to be in an affected area perform the vast majority of disaster response; the disaster “management” performed by organizational actors represents a relatively small (but easy to observe and measure) component of the “big picture”. Therefore, the current organizational bias inherent in the Sahana system should be addressed. An effort should be made to reexamine every aspect of the system with “new eyes”, as if one was viewing the system for the first time with no experience whatsoever in disaster response or management. At a minimum, different “portals” should be developed for organizational versus individual actors; the portal for individual actors would direct the user to a much simpler version of the site with an emphasis on those modules that are actually useful for non-organizational actors. For instance, a resigned version of the missing person’s registry would be highlighted, with much improved user-friendly features and simplicity in mind. More importantly, new modules should be designed that are most useful to the spontaneous volunteer and victim audiences.

Problem 1, Answer 4

The Sahana project goals are admirable and achievable through an open source application. The internet has provided a tool to connect people in a way like never before. Key information can be delivered to protect people from disasters and help them recover afterwards. Sahana and similar “open source” programs can unit government agencies, private businesses, volunteers. Similarly, loved ones can keep in touch, find lost relatives, and obtain critical information necessary for recovery.

The modules of the Sahana project address the needs of most catastrophic disasters. In the tragic events of 9/11 the television news would often show desperate family members posting pictures of missing loved ones in a central location. There was an anticipation and hope that someone would recognize a photo and be able to offer a family member some word on the location and condition of their loved one. Through internet registries photos and information can be posted to an online bulletin board. The information can reach many more people and facilitate reunification of missing persons.

Additionally, the Sahana Organization Registry can track aid organizations, identify resources available, and place them in the areas of need. An organizational registry eliminates duplication of effort and places resources where needed in the quickest amount of time.

Appropriate shelters are needed during a disaster. Many people refused to leave their homes after Hurricane Katrina because some shelters refused pets. Other simply could not reach the shelters because of disabilities. Shelter registries can place victims in shelters that are nearby, appropriate for their needs, and can provide necessary accommodations.

Another problem encountered during Hurricane Katrina was resource management. A generous outpouring of donated goods started arriving after the hurricane. Sorting, packing, and distributing goods are very labor intensive tasks. Often collected items are not needed in one region but desired in another. The creation of registries can help to confirm that donated goods and supplies are distributed to those who need them the most.

The needs of First responders are often overlooked during an emergency. However, the truth is that they need resources to be effective and offer help to those impacted by the disaster. A Volunteer Coordination System is an excellent resource to track volunteer, document their contact information, availability, and skills.

A real-time view of the disaster scene is optimal in assessing the needs and allocating resources. The Sahana Awareness module allows people to add information and photos to capture the disaster as it unfolds.

All modules screenshots are presented in a visually clean and simple format. They contain necessary information without being too chaotic to overwhelm the reader. The developers of the system designed the framework in a way to allow the writer to focus on writing the module. It was built upon the design of modularized architecture and component based development. The premise of the design is based upon the “KISS” (Keep it simple stupid) philosophy but allows freedom to override defaults and customize.

The modules and system appear to be useful and needed during a disaster. However, the installation of the program proved difficult. The instructions for installation were not user friendly for those who are not well versed in computer development. At times the Sourceforge web site was unavailable. The program seems to be adaptive enough to encompass a variety of disasters. I would suggest improvement in downloading and installing the program, especially for those who do not have a strong background in computer technology.

Problem 1, Answer 5

To put it lightly, the Sahana software fascinates me. The amount of information that can be input into it and tracked by it makes it very useful. I admire the creators for ensuring that it stays an open source product, as it enables those who may not be able to afford such vital software to have access to it. The amount of items that it allows tracking for makes it extremely beneficial for use during an event and during preparation for one.

It seems very user-friendly and the screens are both pleasing to the eye and easy to navigate. The program allows for several different situations, which are easy to toggle between and can be very helpful for training purposes. The missing person function can be very useful for incidents like Hurricane Katrina, when there was massive evacuation and people were separated from their loved ones. It even allows for searching names when the exact spelling is not known, which is useful because there may have been an error inputting the name or the person searching may not know the exact spelling.

It’s capability for listing organizational data is priceless. In a large event, a great number of volunteer organizations are involved. It would be helpful to use the shelter function to know where the Red Cross shelters are located, to use the inventory function to keep up with supplies donated by the public and managed by these volunteer organizations. It would be much easier on those controlling inventory if there was a specific area for each organization to control their inventory. If it had this function, a running total could be kept for the entire project, but it would be helpful to the organizations by allowing them to tally their own supplies. Plus, it would allow for easy supply sharing among the organizations. The option to request relief is greatly needed during an event and if able to be used by the varying volunteer organizations, would allow them to see where they can be of service or where their supplies are needed.

The messaging module is an interesting idea and is a great way to stay in touch for users of the program. It does send sms, which is nice, but not so great for those of us with an iPhone that is not capable of handling such. Also, it does not message to any source. People use varying sources of instant messaging and it would be beneficial if it could relay messages on some popular systems as well. This would solve the problem with those using iPhones. I use Yahoo Messenger on mine and it does receive sms, which would solve both problems.

I like the function that allows for donations to be made through a system. Although I feel that it does make some assumption that the program will be widely used by the public, unless I misunderstood how pledges were to be made. It is nice thought that it has a system for tracking donations made. This would, once again, be useful for volunteer organizations to use to manage the great influx of donations that occur after a disaster.

Overall, I thought the system was very well put together and easy to navigate. Everything is easily labeled and extremely self-explanatory. This program could be used by many, I believe, without much instruction, which is a great asset during times of need when people need to adapt quickly. It has so many features that programs we have seen this semester do not. Its capabilities to track supplies and organizations are beyond ideal. Granted that some tweaks are needed, they are very few.

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