[Air-l] "911.gov" -- Social Networks + Disaster Relief

Frank Thomas news.ftr at free.fr
Wed Feb 21 09:59:54 PST 2007

Paul DiPerna wrote:
> I came across a Technology Review article this morning which might
> interest some folks here who look at the intersection of ICTs and
> public policy.  
> "Type 911.gov: Two scientists think that social networks can improve
> disaster relief" 
> https://www.technologyreview.com/Infotech/18196/
> Here is another backgrounder I found on BBC's site-
> http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/6364301.stm
> I definitely like the intent behind this kind of initiative. 
> Unfortunately the devil is always in the details when such a great idea
> enters a political process, and then actual implementation.  
The devil is not so much in the details but in particular in the 
structure of such an approach. Telecomm nets are tightly coupled 
socio-technical systems : when the energy input stops you get cascading 
net breakdowns. And when the net is overloaded it crashes, too : A 
network is always conceived to run at economic load & to manage some 
peak situations, but never when all people in a given area use it at the 
same time, as is the case in catastrophes.

Two basic questions:
1/ How will an emergency community response grid work when it is based 
on Internet websites and the electricity supply breaks down ?

2/ At which level of traffic do Internet servers crash because of 
overload? In the old telecom times telephone routers in residential 
areas in Europe were saturated when 8% of all customers in the area 
called at the same time. Call centres for fire brigades, the police, 
etc. crashed when called on more than 80% of incoming lines.

In emergency situations you have to scale down to the basics. One of the 
basics is : the less dependent on technological networks you are the 
more probable you survive.

It would be interesting to know if the researchers mentioned in the 
articles conceived their model with people living in New Orleans. A 
close look on the living conditions of those who did not survive might 
protect against a too strong belief in technology.

F. Thomas

Dr. Frank Thomas
FTR Internet Research
93110 Rosny-sous-Bois

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