If you have ever responded to a disaster, you have likely made an infinite number of decisions and taken an infinite number of actions. Information has informed these decisions and actions in some way. However, had the information been delivered in the right way at the right time, you probably would have been more efficient and effective with your time. Having the information in the right way allows you to spend more time mastering your objectives rather than mastering the art of data and information management.
Situation Reports (SitReps) are a great example of information delivered in a more usable way. However, SitReps were created in an era when paper documents reigned supreme and when that was the best way to convey information to a large group of people. As technology becomes better and more data is available, though, the mass approach to information sharing is no longer sufficient to support the infinite and diverse number of decisions being made and actions being taken.
There are so many stakeholders involved in disaster response that it is natural to think that their information needs vary greatly. While a SitRep may convey useful information to a decent sized audience, stakeholders' information needs are much greater than a summary report of activities and intentions. They want to use your information to strategize, coordinate, and identify gaps so they can help too. This requires detailed information that is not always easy to come by unless there is a pre-established process already in place. (Sometimes this can get unweildy and expensive to manage)
This lack of access to detailed information severely in real-time also limits emergent groups who have the capacity and capabilities to support disaster response efforts. What if Occupy Sandy had more information from NYC OEM? Could they have focused their efforts better? Could Team Rubicon's skills be better utilized if they know the local emergency management agency has designated a particular neighborhood as a priority?
Some people might say this information is available. But I would contend that it is either buried in a person's head, an email, or a PDF report. This is NOT effective information sharing because it places additional burden on others to find, sort and track all this incoming information. Imagine the last time you received hundreds, if not thousands, of emails during a disaster response. Was it overwhelming to just keep up with your inbox?
This is where technology can help. First, technology can help you publish data and information in more usable formats for others. If everyone does this, there is a net benefit to everyone involved in a disaster response. Second, technology can help you find and manage relevant data and information so you can spend more time on your objectives rather than mastering the art of data and information management.
Imagine you log into your disaster management application in real-time and select a few pre-populated check boxes of internal and external information that may be relevant to you given the situation you currently face. Then you shift over to your dashboard to find this information is now neatly displayed in an easy-to-use interactive format. You ultimate decide to deploy resources to that area and with the click of one more button, others who may be affected by this decision are immediately notified of your actions within their own dashboards.
From a technical standpoint, this is entirely possible. The real challenge is who will take the lead to update information policies that allow more practical information sharing? Who will demand that their software vendors all have good data management schemes (based on existing standards) with open APIs? Who will build the marketplace for the easy integration of systems?