Problem 3 Answer 1

From what I can tell from reviewing the software improvements need to be made in the mapping information. In the United States the use of GIS in disasters is increasing. Emergency managers are becoming comfortable and reliant on ArcView style maps. It would be beneficial to be able to zoom into a map and see where shelters are located and know which shelters are full, handicap accessible etc. Having a layer that shows where your logistical supplies are located so the user can see the location of the item that is nearest to the need. The more information that can be imported from the modules and layered in a map the more beneficial the program will be. It appeared to me from the demo on the website that mapping technology could be improved. One question I had was there a way to zoom in to the street level and see buildings. If that capability is there I missed it. If not it is very important to have street level mapping capabilities.

The request management system may benefit by using the FEMA “typing” required by the National Incident Management System. If the program is going to be used in the United States it will have to be NIMS compliant. Resource typing would benefit the Sahana system by cutting down on confusion when requesting items. In the past there were many mix-ups due to the party that ordered a resource and the party providing resource were not on the same page. An example would be if I needed a SWAT team and placed a request. I may be expecting a team with explosive entry training and an armored personnel carrier. I may get 5 or 6 guys with automatic weapons that do not have specialized equipment. By ordering a Type 1 SWAT team everyone knows and understands what is needed. One can find the typing standards in the FEMA Website

Problem 3 Answer 2

What is lacking or any problem with current module One concern that I would express is data management. I did not see where there is oversight of information. I am not simply referring to submissions of information but volume, retention and purge time. Is information automatically purged after a certain point in the recovery or mitigation phase? Does this have to be done manually? Is it converted to a type of ‘lessons learned’ document that may be used for future research and development of modifications to this system or emergency management in general?

Examples of data management that I am referring to include contact information for organizations; who is tasked with verifying the accuracy of contact information from one disaster to the next or situation mapping; who adds/removes information in the GIS environment and how long is it retained post-event or persons registry; does this allow for people to pre-register (in preparation for a disaster), is it used only post-disaster to unite family and friends, and how long is the information retained?

From experience with special response teams on the local level, I know personnel move around, titles change, and organizations reorganize. Who will keep track of these changes? I assume it will be the organizations themselves that are responsible for editing/updating information. How will the ‘new’ people in charge be aware they need to update information in this system vs. internal systems only? Will the ‘new’ person have the same passion for keeping information up-to-date in this system?

How will additional modifications help improve emergency management Through the incorporation of emerging technologies (social networking, handheld devices capable of sending/receiving this information, enhanced GIS capabilities, and alternate power sources to operate such systems) coordination and cooperation will improve for emergency management partners. After the 9-11 Commission released its report, the single factor that stood out as needing immediate attention was the lack of communication between first responders. Enhancements to the current version of Sahana that include alternate means of communications would enable collaboration during preparations, enhance coordination efforts earlier in the response phase, and facilitate more timely and accurate recovery efforts.

I would like to see a training environment as a modification. This could be a tool used during planning and tabletop exercises to familiarize participants with the capabilities and expectations of the system prior to a live event. This would also enable regular refresher training for organizations to maintain a level of proficiency with the system.

The increase in use of social networking sites is a great example of beneficial technology. During a course in emerging technologies we had the opportunity to review research conducted after the Virginia Tech shootings in April 2007. The use of sites such as Facebook© by students on campus and those searching for information about family and friends on campus demonstrated that during a disaster non-first response personnel can share accurate and timely information pertaining to the event. We no longer have to wait for conventional media (i.e. television and radio, which do not always do justice to the entire event) to release information. There is historical concern for the accuracy of information obtained from outside the professional community and this research dispelled that myth and proved that during times of crisis information flow can be accurate and self-policing.

Problem 3, Answer 3

In examining the demonstration version of the Sahana Disaster Management System available at the website, I have identified the Messaging Module as one that could be significantly improved in order to increase its value to emergency management efforts. This module currently allows short messages up to 160 characters to be sent to multiple email addresses and/or mobile phone numbers. An administrator can also create permanent groups that store the designated email addresses and phone numbers in the system so they do not have to be re-entered each time. This is certainly a useful tool, but somewhat limited compared to free websites available elsewhere such as Twitter.

This module, as currently designed, is again reflective of a more organizational actor-focused mindset with its emphasis on a top-down command and control approach to emergency management. It assumes that the only valuable information is that which some top-level person who has all the answers deems to share with a set group of other people. I can imagine that the typical use of this tool in the field is for a manager at an NGO to share information or directives with a number of members of his or her team. A better approach would be to allow individuals to sign up to receive messages that are of interest to them in addition to the way the system is set up currently. This module should be modified to become more open, similar to Twitter, so that affected individuals (most of whom will be strangers to each other) can reach out to each other in disaster situations.

One of the most interesting efforts going on toward that end currently is the Xpeditenetwork, which allows individuals to sign up for emergency updates based on zip codes (in the United States) – this is the first free private sector emergency application that I am aware of that is based on geographic location. In a disaster, zip codes will be too large of an area to rely on for coordination – it would be better to develop a system that would allow individuals to self-designate a much smaller geographic area on the fly to match whatever needs are present in a given disaster and whatever extent makes sense in the community itself. The utilization of such a system could develop organically – for instance, suppose in the aftermath of an earthquake, a number of residents have begun responding to immediate needs of their neighbors in a 3-block radius. If even one of the involved individuals is familiar with the Sahana module, they could create a messaging group (perhaps based on a random 4 digit code), and spray paint the group name on various damaged structures in the affected area. Any individual who saw the code would have a legitimate interest in the information (since, by seeing it, they are necessarily in the affected area of interest); they could then sign up for updates from the group (it may be necessary to include a feature in the module which allows people to sign up from groups using text messages from mobile phones, since internet access will likely be unavailable), as well as post their own updates.

In this way, the Messaging Module would be of more use to individuals spontaneously involved in disaster response, as well as victims, instead of being primarily of interest to organizational actors.

Problem 3, Answer 4

The basic principal of the Sahana logistic system is “to get thing and people to the right place, at right time, at right price.” Every disaster requires a management system to track supplies and aid in distribution. It is a challenge to governments and non-governmental organizations to provide adequate resources to victims and responders. Disasters can quickly overwhelm most supply systems. Providing more equipment, tools, and relief items than normal necessitates planning. Resources need to be available regionally in order to be effective. Therefore, having a resource management system that can identify resources globally is enormously complex. Another problem with managing resources for a disaster is the vast array of items needed. Every disaster is different and may require unique supplies. A logistics systems needs to address procurement, transportation, warehousing, and distribution.

The existing module is geared towards Warehouse Management. However, there are many items that could be designed into the plan that do not fit within a Warehouse Management system. Items such as medical supplies are maintained and inventoried by separate organizations. Sometimes those organizations may not readily wish to share inventory information out of security concerns. Duplication of effort may exist when cooperation is not established between organizations. One agency may already have an existing inventory of supplies but their inventory system does not interface with others.

The Sahana system is looking to develop two distinctly separate inventories. One is based upon the “intake” of items. The other looks to create an inventory of items once they are in warehouse. All aspects of accepting items into the warehouse, inventorying them, transporting them, and tracking distribution are time consuming and labor intensive. A system that could utilize a bar code, scanner system would greatly aid in the tasks of logistic management. Similarly, a system that employs a GPS tracking system could quickly allow items to be tracked from procurement, to the warehouses, to staging areas, and finally to distribution. Package tracking software currently used by private industry and the USPS could be a model for an inventory system. Drawing upon existing knowledge in what works in private business is sometimes helpful in designing systems for managing disasters.

Developing a disaster resource management system is a huge investment, an investment that is costly and time consuming. It is important for organizations to coordinate and combine their resources in order to meet the demands of a disaster. Building a system that can provide the need through open source software is a smart choice. In order for a FOSS project like Sahana to be successful it needs to be accepted by the global community as a leader in the management of disaster information. The system is shared, developed, and owned globally to meet the needs of all humanity. The great thing about FOSS is it is adaptable and can be customized to a particular need, without restrictions. The Sahana software can be designed to address all of the concerns of getting supplies to people in their time of need. It can be accomplished by those who have the technical knowledge and the goodwill to get it done.

Problem 3, Answer 5

The module that I found that I would change is the messaging module. As I stated earlier, not all phones can receive and send SMS. Also, there is a great assumption that those using the software will be continuously logged on to receive the messages that will run inside the system. If a person were to be out in the field collecting data or just unable to get to the office or to a computer, it would not be possible for them to check, send, or receive these messages.

I would first propose the sending of text messages rather than or in addition to SMS. I have an iPhone and despite all of its great ability, it does not send or receive SMS. This is frustrating for normal daily functions, but I would imagine it would be even more so during time of great need. There are no phones that do not receive text messages unless a person has opted out of that function, so these would be much better suited. Also, if the information were emailed instead of sent as a SMS, photos and other information as such could be received.

The messaging system does, as I stated before, assume that you are at the computer that has the software on it and not in the field or just away from it in general. I would modify it in some way to accept messages from various systems. Palringo is an example of a program that allows for multiple messaging systems to be used by the same program. This would also tie back to the SMS issues, as you can get applications on mobile phones for these instant messaging programs that allow SMS. Having a mobile application for Blackberry, iPhones, and others would be helpful too, as it would create a one-click way for those using the program to access it from outside the office. This would not only be convenient, but would allow for up to the minute updating from the field, which can be vital during disaster times.

Having such capabilities would not only be beneficial to emergency managers by making life and work easier for them during those times, it would be helpful to volunteer organizations. They are there in the aftermath of a disaster, when there are little resources. If electricity and/or high-speed internet are not available, an application on their phone may be the only way to log in to the system until generators and satellite internet are able to be brought in and become functioning. Although it would be unrealistic to think that all functions of the website could be found in such an application, many could – at least enough to make it useful from outside the office.

I must say that I was very pleased to see all of the capabilities that Sahana. I feel that it will be very useful for emergency managers who have limited funds. While the EMA I work for is currently under CSEPP funding, open source applications such as this is something that they are considering for their future after CSEPP. I will definitely recommend this one to them!

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