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Re: Computer systems blamed for feeble hurricane response?

  • From: Michael.Dillon
  • Date: Wed Sep 14 09:09:18 2005

> does anyone else find it highly odd and
> worrisome that they're sending emails to alert FEMA of a crisis,
> instead of, I don't know - phone calls? if I'm a federal agency and I
> require FEMA's resources immediately, I'm going to pick up the phone
> and call them; not fire off an email marked "urgent".

Imagine the following email:

   I have just received a phone call from one of my constituents 
   who was visiting friends in New Orleans. She is trapped along
   with 50 other people on the second floor of the Baptist Church
   at the corner of ABC Street and XYZ Avenue approximately a mile
   west of the Superdome. The nearest building with any part of
   it above water is the Odeon Theatre 3 blocks north of the church.
   They have had no water to drink for over 24 hours and they fear
   that some of the children and elderly are literally dying of thirst.
   Is there a fax number I can send this information to?

What part of the above email message is it preferably to
communicate by telephone instead of email? 

Many people choose the medium of communication based on 
whether or not they want a record of the information communicated.
If they want the content kept secret, they use the phone.
If they want the content recorded, they use email. In my
hypothetical example, a politican from another state is trying
to help a constituent. Naturally, being a politician, they
prefer to have a record of the content.

Also, the sender of the email recognizes that some of the
information is important to have in written form, such as the
address, distance, direction, number of blocks. Things like
that can get wrongly transcribed on a voice call. This is a
life or death situation so it can be argued that it is TOO
IMPORTANT to risk a voice call.

If only FEMA's email infrastructure was geared for emergencies...
Or their web page. Or the web page of the American Red Cross.
Fact is that a lot of organizations got caught with their pants
down because they were not prepared to respond to an emergency
and they were not prepared to use modern communications methods.
Anyone who was searching for friends and relatives during the
aftermath knows how chaotic it was to find information about
the whereabouts of the refugees.

This is a real wake-up call for all kinds of organizations,
not just FEMA and not just government agencies. Could your diesel
gensets cope with an extended running period like the one that
DirectNIC has experienced? Do you have enough bottled water in
your data center to keep critical staff ALIVE in the case of
an extended emergency like this? Anyone who runs any type of
critical infrastructure will have dozens of lessons to learn
after analyzing the outcome of the New Orleans disaster, even
moreso than the 911 commission or the Columbia accident inquiry.

--Michael Dillon

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