It's been six months since destructive earthquakes rocked the regions surrounding Port-au-Prince, Haiti. There will no doubt be conversation about the progress made thus far in rebuilding Haiti. But, I would like to ask the question: will next time be any different? Are we any better prepared for the next emergency, or will we simply rely on our responsiveness at the onset of the next emergency to save lives and alleviate human suffering?
We seem prone to repeat history again and again by ignoring modest investments in emergency preparedness that could help us predict, prevent and equip emergency responders with the right tools before an emergency hits.
Over the past 30 years -- in what we've come to call the "Information Age" -- I have seen the effects that information and communication technology have had. Following the earthquake, the technology sector came together with amazing contributions supporting organizations like NetHope and Inveneo to restore life-saving communications capabilities for the humanitarian sector in Haiti. The list of companies that responded swiftly and generously is long -- Microsoft, Cisco, Intel, Accenture, Google, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Blackbaud, just to name a few.
At NetHope, our work in Haiti, and in other disasters before it, has taught us a great deal. We have seen collaboration among humanitarian organizations work. We have seen technology companies come together and respond quickly and generously with their products, people and cash. We have also seen how quickly communications capabilities can be restored in the face of total chaos.
There is a bigger opportunity here. There is an opportunity that can save thousands of lives, reduce pain and suffering for millions and cost significantly less money.
Emergency preparedness is the next frontier for public/private sector collaboration. We all know that it makes sense to invest up front and prepare for emergencies. But, quite sadly, money mostly flows in times of crises. NetHope is determined to change that thinking and we are mounting an appeal that calls on the technology sector and other donors to earmark funds for emergency preparedness.
Many technology trends suggest that breakthroughs are not only possible, but highly likely with some amount of initial investment including:
• Wireless technologies that can quickly and cost-effectively restore communications capabilities anywhere in the world
• Cloud computing innovations which house software outside of emergency areas and that, with connectivity, can be accessed at a moment's notice
• Handheld computing devices (including mobile phones) which make it possible to gather and retrieve information anywhere, anytime
The possibilities are endless and many have already begun:
• Natural and man-made emergency prediction
• Shared assessment tools so that qualified emergency responders can gather and share data rapidly
• Collaboration platforms to coordinate relief work between governments, the United Nations and the NGO sector
• Mapping solutions that can integrate with every aspect of emergency response
• Logistics tools to track the delivery of important commodities from shipping points to final destinations
This work MUST begin outside the spotlight of an emergency; it cannot begin in the midst of chaos. Furthermore, it's not just a "tools" (e.g. software and hardware) problem. Investments in processes and in training staff are needed so that responders can use those tools.
In the aftermath of every emergency, we are often asked by our supporters "how can we do more?" or "what can we do differently next time?" The answer is clear. We need technology companies and other donors to come to the table with their products, expertise and funding to help nonprofits like NetHope prepare for the next emergency.
The Haiti crisis has demonstrated that public/private collaborations can work, but we can do much more. Please join us.
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