Disaster Technology is Built All Wrong

Technology is a great asset for organizations. It facilitates communications and helps simplify complex tasks. This is great when you have complete or majority control of your operating environment, which is common in business and day-to-day operations.  

The problem in disaster response, though, is that unique and temporary organizational structures (e.g., ICS, JFO, ESF, etc.) form during a disaster that differ significantly from day-to-day operational structures. And roles within these temporary structures are filled by various people at different times, some professional and some volunteer.

For example, a Public Health Analyst at the Public Health Department may move to ESF-8 Lead in the County EOC for Shift A, which has a different operational structure from the Analyst's day-to-day job. And another Analyst from the Hospital Association will likely support ESF-8 during Shift B. Now the analyst is part of two different organizational structures (employment and response) with separate technologies for communicating and fulfilling functional responsibilities.  

But many technologies on the market today are developed for and sold directly to single organizations for their given missions and responsibilities. Little attention is paid to when the Public Health Department needs to collaborate with and share data with Law Enforcement or vice versa. Significant time and effort ends up being spent on reconciling information inconsistencies between systems as well as ensuring one has the most up-to-date information...by hand.   

Or, these technical systems end up being back-hacked for a fee to the vendors or consultants. However, "back-hack" connections are mere patches to larger information sharing problems. They may solve your immediate information sharing problem, but not the systemic problems. This is critical in disasters where many different organizations need to work together as one or in coordination with each other.

My main argument is that technology products in the disaster response industry are geared toward a single enterprise deployment. This is not representative of the way disaster responses are managed or coordinated. The next generation of technology needs to recognize that it needs to serve both organizational AND inter-organizational information needs with relative ease and reliability.

In addition, in looking to the immediate future, technology needs to incorporate citizen participation in disaster response in practical and process-reducing ways. The public are key assets to response that are underutilized in part because technologies don't address the additional process burdens that naturally occur with managing and coordinating volunteers and using information from the public. I see way too many analytic and visualization tools that give little thought to how the information can be collected and leveraged in a compressed time frame in a way that adds value to the response.  

Technology of the future needs to give more thought to how it captures organizational affiliations while still enabling inter-organizational and citizen collaboration in less process-intensive ways (e.g., not having to administrate five different systems with different sets of users).

What do you think? What are you gripes with buying and administrating new technology?