It is Time to Consider Wireless Mesh Networking in Our Disaster Recovery Plans

Wireless Mesh Networking (WMN) has been around for quite a few years.  However, not until recently, when protesters in Cairo and Hong Kong used utilities such as Firechat to bypass the mobile phone systems and communicate directly with each other, did mesh networking become well known.

Wireless Mesh Networking WMN establishes an ad hoc communications network using the WiFi (802.11/15/16) radios on their mobile phones and laptops to connect with each other, and extend the connectable portion of the network to any device with WMN software.  Some devices may act as clients, some as mesh routers, and some as gateways.  Of course there are more technical issues to fully understand with mesh networks, however the bottom line is if you have an Android, iOS, or software enabled laptop you can join, extend, and participate in a WMN.

In locations highly vulnerable to natural disasters, such as hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or wildfire, access to communications can most certainly mean the difference between surviving and not surviving.  However, during disasters, communications networks are likely to fail.

The same concept used to allow protesters in Cairo and Hong Kong to communicate outside of the mobile and fixed telephone networks could, and possibly should, have a role to play in responding to disasters.

An interesting use of this type of network was highlighted in a recent novel by Matthew Mather, entitled “Cyberstorm.”  Following a “Cyber” attack on the US Internet and connected infrastructures, much of the fixed communications infrastructure was rendered inoperable, and utilities depending on networks also fell under the impact.  An ad hoc WMN was built by some enterprising technicians, using the wireless radios available within most smart phones.  This allowed primarily messaging, however did allow citizens to communicate with each other – and the police, by interconnecting their smart phones into the mesh.

We have already embraced mobile phones, with SMS instant messaging, into many of our country’s emergency notification systems.  In California we can receive instant notifications from emergency services via SMS and Twitter, in addition to reverse 911.  This actually works very well, up to the point of a disaster.

WMN may provide a model for ensuring communications following a disaster.  As nearly every American now has a mobile phone, with a WiFi radio, the basic requirements for a mesh network are already in our hands.  The main barrier, today, with WMN is the distance limitations between participating access devices.  With luck WiFi antennas will continue to increase in power, reducing distance barriers, as each new generation is developed.

There are quite a few WMN clients available for smart phones, tablets, and WiFi-enabled devices today.  While many of these are used as instant messaging and social platforms today, just as with other social communications applications such as Twitter, the underlying technology can be used for many different uses, including of course disaster communications.

Again, the main limitation on using WMNs in disaster planning today is the limited number of participating nodes (devices with a WiFi radio), distance limitations with existing wireless radios and protocols, and the fact very few people are even aware of the concept of WMNs and potential deployments or uses.  The more participants in a WMN, the more robust is becomes, the better performance the WMN will support, and the better chance your voice will be heard during a disaster.

Here are a couple WMN Disaster Support ideas I’d like to either develop, or see others develop:

  • Much like the existing 911 network, a WMN standard could and should be developed for all mobile phone devices, tablets, and laptops with a wireless radio
  • Each mobile device should include an “App” for disaster communications
  • Cities should attempt to install WMN compatible routers and access points, particularly in areas at high risk for natural disasters, which could be expected to survive the disaster
  • Citizens in disaster-prone areas should be encouraged to add a solar charging device to their earthquake, wildfire, and  other disaster-readiness kits to allow battery charging following an anticipated utility power loss
  • Survivable mesh-to-Internet gateways should be the responsibility of city government, while allowing citizen or volunteer gateways (including ham radio) to facilitate communications out of the disaster area
  • Emergency applications should include the ability to easily submit disaster status reports, including photos and video, to either local, state, or FEMA Incident Management Centers

That is a start.

Take a look at Wireless Mesh Networks.  Wikipedia has a great high-level explanation, and  Google search yields hundreds of entries.  WMNs are nothing new, but as with the early days of the Internet, are not getting a lot of attention.  However maybe at sometime in the future a WMN could save your life.

What Value Can I Expect from Cloud Computing Training?

Cloud Computing ClassroomNormally, when we think of technical-related training, images of rooms loaded with switches, routers, and servers might come to mind.    Cloud computing is different.  In reality, cloud computing is not a technology, but rather a framework employing a variety of technologies – most notably virtualization, to solve business problems or enable opportunities.

From our own practice, the majority of cloud training students represent non-technical careers and positions. Our training does follow the CompTIA Cloud Essentials course criterion, and is not a technical course, so the non-technical student trend should not come as any big surprise. 

What does come as a surprise is how enthusiastically our students dig into the topic.  Whether business unit managers, accounting and finance, sales staff, or executives, all students come into class convinced they need to know about cloud computing as an essential part of their future career progression, or even at times to ensure their career survival.

Our local training methodology is based on establishing an indepth knowledge of the NIST Cloud Definitions and Cloud Reference Architecture.  Once the students get beyond a perception such documents are too complex, and that we will refer nearly all aspects of training to both documents, we easily establish a core cloud computing knowledge base needed to explore both technical aspects, and more importantly practical aspects of how cloud computing is used in our daily lives, and likely future lives.

This is not significantly different than when we trained business users on how to use, employ, and exploit  the Internet in the 90s.  Those of us in engineering or technical operations roles viewed this type of training with either amusement or contempt, at times mocking those who did not share our knowledge and experience of internetworking, and ability to navigate the Internet universe.

We are in the same phase of absorbing and developing tacit knowledge of compute and storage access on demand, service-oriented architectures, Software as a Service, the move to a subscription-based application world.

Hamster Food as a Service (HFaaS)Those students who attend cloud computing training leave the class better able to engage in decision-making related to both personal and organizational information and communication technology, and less exposed to the spectrum of cloud washing, or marketing use of “cloud” and “XXX as a Service”  language overwhelming nearly all media on subjects ranging from hamster food to SpaceX and hyper loops.

Even the hardest core engineers who have degraded themselves to join a non-technical business-oriented cloud course walk away with a better view on how their tools support organizational agility (good jargon, no?), in addition to the potential financial impacts, reduced application development cycles, disaster recovery, business continuity, and all the other potential benefits to the organization when adopting cloud computing.

Some even walk away from the course planning a breakup with some of their favorite physical servers.

The Bottom Line

No student has walked away from a cloud computing course knowing less about the role, impact, and potential of implementing cloud in nearly any organization.  While the first few hours of class embrace a lot of great debates on the value of cloud computing, by the end of the course most students agree they are better prepared to consider, envision, evaluate, and address the potential or shortfalls of cloud computing.

Cloud computing is, and will continue to have influence on many aspects of our lives. It is not going away anytime soon.  The more we can learn, either through self-study or resident training, the better position we’ll be in to make intelligent decisions regarding the use and value of cloud in our lives and organizations.

Gartner Data Center Conference Yields Few Surprises

Gartner’s 2012 Data Center Conference in Las Vegas is noted for  not yielding any major surprise.  While having an uncanny number of attendees (*the stats are not available, however it is clear they are having a very good conference), most of the sessions appear to be simply reaffirming what everybody really knows already, serving to reinforce the reality data center consolidation, cloud computing, big data, and the move to an interoperable framework will be part of everybody’s life within a few years.

Childs at Gartner ConferenceGartner analyst Ray Paquet started the morning by drawing a line at the real value of server hardware in cloud computing.  Paquet stressed that cloud adopters should avoid integrated hardware solutions based on blade servers, which carry a high margin, and focus their CAPEX on cheaper “skinless” servers.  Paquet emphasized that integrated solutions are a “waste of money.”

Cameron Haight, another Gartner analyst, fired a volley at the process and framework world, with a comparison of the value DevOps brings versus ITIL.  Describing ITIL as a cumbersome burden to organizational agility, DevOps is a culture-changer that allows small groups to quickly respond to challenges.  Haight emphasized the frequently stressful relationship between development organizations and operations organizations, where operations demands stability and quality, and development needs freedom to move projects forward, sometimes without the comfort of baking code to the standards preferred by operations – and required by frameworks such as ITIL.

Haight’s most direct slide described De Ops as being “ITIL minus CRAP.”  Of course most of his supporting slides for moving to DevOps looked eerily like an ITIL process….

Other sessions attended (by the author) included “Shaping Private Clouds,” a WIPRO product demonstration, and a data center introduction by Raging Wire.  All valuable introductions for those who are considering making a major change in their internal IT deployments, but nothing cutting edge or radical.

The Raging Wire data center discussion did raise some questions on the overall vulnerability of large box data centers.  While it is certainly possible to build a data center up to any standard needed to fulfill a specific need, the large data center clusters in locations such as Northern Virginia are beginning to appear very vulnerable to either natural, human, or equipment failure disruptions.  In addition to fulfilling data center tier classification models as presented by the Uptime Institute, it is clear we are producing critical national infrastructure which if disrupted could cause significant damage to the US economy or even social order.

Eventually, much like the communications infrastructure in the US, data centers will need to come under the observation or review of a national agency such as Homeland Security.  While nobody wants a government officer in the data center, protection of national infrastructure is a consideration we probably will not be able to avoid for long.

Raging Wire also noted that some colocation customers, particularly social media companies, are hitting up to 8kW per cabinet.  Also scary if true, and in extended deployments.  This could result in serious operational problems if cooling systems were disrupted, as the heat generated in those cabinets will quickly become extreme.  Would also be interesting if companies like Raging Wire and other colocation companies considered developing a real time CFD monitor for their data center floors allowing better monitoring and predictability than simple zone monitoring solutions.

The best presentation of the day came at the end, “Big Data is Coming to Your Data Center.”  Gartner’s Sheila Childs brought color and enthusiasm to a topic many consider, well, boring.  Childs was able to bring the value, power, and future of big data into a human consumable format that kept the audience in their seats until the end of session at 6 p.m. in the late afternoon.

Childs hit on concepts such as “dark data” within organizations, the value of big data in decision support systems (DSS), and the need for developing and recruiting skilled staff who can actually write or build the systems needed to fully exploit the value of big data.  We cannot argue that point, and can only hope our education system is able to focus on producing graduates with the basic skills needed to fulfill that requirement.

5 Data Center Technology Predictions for 2012

2011 was a great year for technology innovation.  The science of data center design and operations continued to improve, the move away from mixed-use buildings used as data centers continued, the watts/sqft metric took a second seat to overall kilowatts available to a facility or customer, and the idea of compute capacity and broadband as a utility began to take its place as a basic right of citizens.

However, there are 5 areas where we will see additional significant advances in 2012.

1.  Data Center Consolidation.  The US Government admits it is using only 27% of its overall available compute power.  With 2094 data centers supporting the federal government (from the CIO’s 25 Point Plan  to Reform Fed IT Mgt), the government is required to close at least 800 of those data centers by 2015.

Data Center ConstructionThe lesson is not lost on state and local governments, private industry, or even internet content providers.  The economics of operating a data center or server closet, whether in costs of real estate, power, hardware, in addition to service and licensing agreements, are compelling enough to make even the most fervent server-hugger reconsider their religion.

2.  Cloud Computing.  Who doesn’t believe cloud computing will eventually replace the need for a server closets, cabinets, or even small cages in data centers?  The move to cloud computing is as certain as the move to email was in the 1980s. 

Some IT managers and data owners hate the idea of cloud computing, enterprise service busses, and consolidated data.  Not so much an issue of losing control, but in many cases because it brings transparency to their operation.  If you are the owner of data in a developing country, and suddenly everything you do can be audited by a central authority – well it might make you uncomfortable…

A lesson learned while attending a  fast pitch contest during late 2009 in Irvine, CA…  An enterprising entrepreneur gave his “pitch” to a panel of investment bankers and venture capital representatives.  He stated he was looking for a $5 million investment in his startup company. 

A panelist asked what the money was for, and the entrepreneur stated “.. and $2 million to build out a data center…”  The panelist responded that 90% of new companies fail within 2 years.  Why would he want to be stuck with the liability of a data center and hardware if the company failed? The gentleman further stated, “don’t waste my money on a data center – do the smart thing, use the Amazon cloud.”

3.  Virtual Desktops and Hosted Office Automation.  How many times have we lost data and files due to a failed hard drive, stolen laptop, or virus disrupting our computer?  What is the cost or burden of keeping licenses updated, versions updated, and security patches current in an organization with potentially hundreds of users?  What is the lead time when a user needs a new application loaded on a computer?

From applications as simple as Google Docs, to Microsoft 365, and other desktop replacement applications suites, users will become free from the burden of carrying a heavy laptop computer everywhere they travel.  Imagine being able to connect your 4G/LTE phone’s HDMI port to a hotel widescreen television monitor, and be able to access all the applications normally used at a desktop.  You can give a presentation off your phone, update company documents, or nearly any other IT function with the only limitation being a requirement to access broadband Internet connections (See # 5 below).

Your phone can already connect to Google Docs and Microsoft Live Office, and the flexibility of access will only improve as iPads and other mobile devices mature.

The other obvious benefit is files will be maintained on servers, much more likely to be backed up and included in a disaster recovery plan.

4.  The Science of Data Centers.  It has only been a few years since small hosting companies were satisfied to go into a data center carved out of a mixed-use building, happy to have access to electricity, cooling, and a menu of available Internet network providers.  Most rooms were Data Center Power Requirementsdesigned to accommodate 2~3kW per cabinet, and users installed servers, switches, NAS boxes, and routers without regard to alignment or power usage.

That has changed.  No business or organization can survive without a 24x7x265 presence on the Internet, and most small enterprises – and large enterprises, are either consolidating their IT into professionally managed data centers, or have already washed their hands of servers and other IT infrastructure.

The Uptime Institute, BICSI, TIA, and government agencies have begun publishing guidelines on data center construction providing best practices, quality standards, design standards, and even standards for evaluation.  Power efficiency using metrics such as the PUE/DCiE provide additional guidance on power management, data center management, and design. 

The days of small business technicians running into a data center at 2 a.m. to install new servers, repair broken servers, and pile their empty boxes or garbage in their cabinet or cage on the way out are gone.  The new data center religion is discipline, standards, discipline, and security. 

Electricity is as valuable as platinum, just as cooling and heat are managed more closely than inmates at San Quentin.  While every other standards organization is now offering certification in cabling, data center design, and data center management, we can soon expect universities to offer an MS or Ph.D in data center sciences.

5.  The 4th Utility Gains Traction.  Orwell’s “1984” painted a picture of pervasive government surveillance, and incessant public mind control (Wikipedia).  Many people believe the Internet is the source of all evil, including identity theft, pornography, crime, over-socialization of cultures and thoughts, and a huge intellectual time sink that sucks us into the need to be wired or connected 24 hours a day.

Yes, that is pretty much true, and if we do not consider the 1000 good things about the Internet vs. each 1 negative aspect, it might be a pretty scary place to consider all future generations being exposed and indoctrinated.  The alternative is to live in a intellectual Brazilian or Papuan rain forest, one step out of the evolutionary stone age.

The Internet is not going away, unless some global repressive government, fundamentalist religion, or dictator manages to dismantle civilization as we know it.

The 4th utility identifies broadband access to the ‘net as a basic right of all citizens, with the same status as roads, water, and electricity.  All governments with a desire to have their nation survive and thrive in the next millennium will find a way to cooperate with network infrastructure providers to build out their national information infrastructure (haven’t heard that term since Al Gore, eh?).

Without a robust 4th utility, our children and their children will produce a global generation of intellectual migrant workers, intellectual refugees from a failed national information sciences vision and policy.

2012 should be a great year.  All the above predictions are positive, and if proved true, will leave the United States and other countries with stronger capacities to improve their national quality of life, and bring us all another step closer.

Happy New Year!

Taking Aim at the US Broadband Deficit

During his October 6th speech on Universal Service Fund (USF) and InterCarrier Compensation (ICC) reform, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski admitted the United States has not adequately fulfilled our obligation to deliver broadband Internet and communications services to all areas of the country.   Genachowski noted “harm from not having (access to) broadband – the costs of digital exclusion – already high, are growing every day.” He continued “The broadband divide means economic opportunities denied for ordinary consumers who lack broadband access; educational opportunities diminished; health care access reduced; and public safety
compromised.”

The deficiencies in broadband deployment within the United States are well known, and widely discussed on media and blogs.  The Organization of Economic  Co-operation and Development (OECD) dropped the US to 14th place on the global broadband penetration list, with Western European countries and South Korea leading the world in delivering high speed Internet and broadband services to their citizens.

In a global economy moving ahead at Internet speed, can the United States afford to allow ourselves to continue sliding our ability to deliver the basic tool of communications, this “Fourth Utility” of broadband communications to our citizens?  our young people and students?  our businesses and entrepreneurs?

The FCC of course publically claims they have “harnessing the power of broadband Internet to benefit every American” at the core of their mission, however Genachowski also admits there are cities, with the example of Liberty, Nebraska, as examples of small towns which as of summer 2011 still had no access to broadband internet services.

Let’s consider a model that bypasses the political hype of projects such as the FCC’s Connect America Fund, and turn the responsibility back to private companies, entrepreneurs, and other Americans who given the opportunity may be able to use creativity, energy, and a desire to bring the US back in front of the world’s broadband penetration ratings.

Its All About Fiber and Wireless

In a 2010 article on wireless Internet access in Moldova, Pacific-Tier Communications wrote an article describing wireless access in Chisinau.  In that article we reported wireless internet access in Moldova, up to 50Mbps, was available for about $45 USD.  Testing between Chisinau and Burbank (CA) indicated throughput of more than 10Mbps.

Subject: End of the world/Fin del Mundo – Telefonica performs excellently!

Hi guys,

I’m in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. On vacation – not work. Except … I had to work for an hour, or at least have a Skype video call from my iPad yesterday. I was at a hotel with Telefonica Argentina xDSL.

It worked perfectly into northern Europe. No problems! Now the point is not the wonders of Skype; but the quality of the network down here at “Fin del Mundo”. Quite excellent! (Email from Martin Levy, Hurricane Electric)

Subsequent testing from hotels and hotspots within the United States showed a fraction of that performance, putting the US in a category somewhat less than Moldova.  The problem in many cases is the local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) simply cannot provide, or afford the broadband “bandwidth” needed to connect users to other locations throughout the global Internet-connected community, resulting in restricted services for many local users – even in large cities such as Los Angeles.

“Just as there is a need for new roads, sewers and power infrastructure, there is a need for new communications infrastructure” explains Hunter Newby, CEO of Allied Fiber.  “Can anyone imagine driving a 10 year old car, or using a 10 year old cell phone with no ability to upgrade. This is the sad state of our National fiber infrastructure. New investment is critically necessary in order for the USA to be competitive.”

It is, all about, fiber.  While smaller countries like Moldova or South Korea may find construction and delivery of fiber optic and wireless infrastructure manageable, North America is a huge land mass, and interconnecting major population areas requires hundreds, if not thousands of miles of infrastructure to deliver broadband communications services to each population center and rural area.

While wireless technologies such as 4G, LTE, and WiMAX are becoming very effective at delivering broadband to mobile users and even local loops (end users and consumers), the issue is more how to get content and real-time communications interconnecting the wireless towers and local loops located throughout the 50 states.  A tremendous amount of capital is required to “sew” all the end distribution points together, and that thread is fiber.

While Allied Fiber is focusing on building new infrastructure on the long distance routes, other independent and neutral fiber optic infrastructure companies are now scrambling to build “metro” fiber infrastructure needed to deliver high capacity infrastructure to distribution points closer to end users.

“The independents (fiber carriers) are the only way our country will remain competitive, innovative, and offer value” advises Glenn Russo, President of Zayo Networks, an independent provider of fiber optic network services.  “The incumbent ILECs and CLECs cannot offer the agility and innovation required to move ahead.”

Speaking of Zayo’s contribution to the US market, Russo continues “our infrastructure helps promote innovation within a variety of industries and enterprises.   We (Americans) are impatient, we hear of things technologically possible, of things being done in other countries, and we want it (those services) delivered now.  The other companies (ILECs and CLECs) cannot respond to a rapidly developing and changing market.”

John Schmitt, VP of Business development at Fiberlight would agree.  “That’s when the business gets enjoyable, when you are forging ahead and opening new territories” says Schmitt.  “Fiberlight is completely neutral in delivering a high capacity product to (telecom) carriers, networks, and even private enterprise. “

Fiberlight, a metro fiber optic infrastructure provider,  is committed to delivering “super high fiber counts” within their metro networks, providing high capacity fiber to buildings, towers, and carriers.  That infrastructure can serve not only any building within their own metro infrastructure, but also “building up to interconnection points, carrier hotels, data centers, as well as serving the needs of private networks within the metro” informs Schmitt.

“While we are in the metro space, and can deliver to end points within the metro not possible for long distance and backbone companies, we are a good match for companies like Allied Fiber who need to provide their customers access to the local loop, as well as allowing our customers access other markets throughout the US with other metro providers connected to the long haul guys.”

What is Means to Americans and Global Competitiveness

The World Bank has published reports that indicate “Broadband networks can support long-term innovation-led economic growth. Recent research by the World Bank finds that for every 10 percentage-point increase in the penetration of broadband services, developing countries can see an increase in economic growth of 1.3 percentage points.”

There is a clear correlation between giving citizens access to broadband communications and Internet access with economic growth.  The United States, falling further behind the world each year in broadband penetration and access, is not providing sufficient resources to Americans to allow the country to remain competitive in an aggressive global Internet-enabled market.

Russo is optimistic.  “We need to keep a sharp eye on the stimulus networks.  Many of the new networks are middle mile (connecting metro areas), and offer many synergies to our (Zayo’s) business model.  If all the networks proposed are actually built, I have to believe we will catch up to the rest of the world pretty fast.”

And while the Broadband.Gov website (FCC’s official website) has not been updated much in the past year, aside from a few blog entries and event videos, the materials published outlining the US Government’s broadband vision and plan are sound.

A Call to Broadband Action

For Americans the main task is to ensure broadband infrastructure is built.  No more excuses from ILEC/CLECs finding excuses to throttle down broadband, rather than enable hyper-growth of broadband.  No more franchises given to telecom providers who lacking competition have little or no incentive to rapidly expand broadband access throughout the country.

High capacity fiber backbones and metro networks, high capacity tower and wireless infrastructure, regulation to support construction, rather than over regulate or establish restrictive licensing requirements.

It does not make any difference if the network will deliver social media, movies, voice, video, support for enterprise information and communications technology, education, intelligent grids, research, or processing “Seti at Home” processing packets.  The fourth utility is essential to our economic survival and national security.

Companies such as Allied Fiber, Zayo, Fiberlight, and dozens of other startup and independent telecom providers must be given our support as a nation and government to build and deliver the tools needed for current and future generations of Americans to retain and extend our leadership in the global network-connected community.

Citizen Journalists and Modern Chronicles of Disaster

Jeff Jarvis, author, journalist, and new media visionary provided his thoughts on citizen journalism during a CNN interview (13 March 2011) following the Japan tsunami disaster.  One of the most interesting ideas concerned the immediacy and presence of citizens able to record events, and distribute recorded events in near real time.  Jarvis expressed the idea that we cannot wait for traditional journalists to arrive at the scene of an event, and with new devices such as cell phone cameras and the Internet any citizen can provide raw materials which journalists may then provide deeper context.

Citizen Journalism 2011Journalists as News Aggregators

Tradition news media is still working to fully understand the deal with the idea of citizen journalism, and how to use the global pool of news recorders to not only their benefit, but also the benefit of viewers and readers.  Jarvis further developed the idea of media becoming an aggregator of news recorded by amateur sources around the world.  Whether it is through a CNN iReport, KTLA “My Capture/Your KTLA,” or a Fox news “U-Report,” traditional media has recognized the power of citizens, and is aggressively recruiting citizen sources to supplement their own news sources.

As Jarvis mentioned, there is no way traditional media companies can provide adequate on-the-scene journalists to cover all aspects of a story or event.  Thus if citizens are able to provide more raw materials, and the traditional media company can collate or aggregate those materials, while adding context or piecing individual pieces of a story together to complete a larger story.  This is particularly important in rapidly developing situations, such as the Japan Tsunami, a California wildfire, or other crisis.

NOTE:  Nearly every news outlet supporting citizen journalism input also includes a disclaimer recommending no person put themselves into “harm’s way” to provide video or photo records of an event.

Journalism Becomes a Source of “What We Don’t Know”

As citizen journalism continues to supplement traditional media, Jarvis continued discussing the idea of news changing from a an idea of presenting “what we do know” about an event or story, to identifying “what we don’t know.”  That is a difficult idea to fully comprehend.  However when we are able to consider the immediacy of news sources, it is very exciting.

For example, as I sit in Montreal writing a story about the earthquake in Sendai, I know that many people in Japan still have access to the Internet, have cameras, and are constantly monitoring social media applications such as Facebook and Twitter.  There is a very good chance if I desire information on a specific city, or recovery event occurring within a city, there will be somebody in that location who can provide the information or photos needed to complete my story.  I may never meet that source, and may only be able to send an email message in thanks (in addition to citing their contribution in the story), but the source (or sources) is now available to me within minutes from virtually anywhere in the world.

In an event as large as the Sendai tsunami, even an outlet such as CNN with two or three on-the-scene reporters can only cover a small fraction of the entire magnitude of the incident.  To get the full picture, having dozens or hundreds of contributing citizen journalists will not only help interested viewers around the world gain access to a more complete picture of the event, but also when necessary provide an unfiltered view of an event.

YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, and Other Neutral Archives

The real value of video, photo, and textual records of an event may be in the raw form it is recorded.  While we expect a news media source, whether a newspaper, magazine, or television news program to provide a factual report on an event, it is not a guarantee.  Any person who has traveled around the world, watching news programs sourced in many different countries, it is very clear each news source has a slightly different presentation of the same event or story.

If you watch CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera, CCTV (China), NHK (Japan), or France 2, or Fox News, you will definitely get 7 different representations of the same story.  In this case citizens loading their raw videos or photos to a neutral archive will provide a view into an event without the fear of government spin or propaganda, nor newscasters adding their own editorial or politically motivated analysis.

The Future of News

While not promoting the idea of encouraging the average citizen to become a war correspondent, being equipped with a recording device does give each citizen the ability to record a snapshot of time and event.  Whether it is providing supplemental materials to a news outlet, or providing real-time information to emergency service personnel, citizens recording events are here to stay.  At some point governments and others attempting to “spin” facts in their interest or favor will lose their influence due to the ability to archive raw recordings of events within the global Internet “cloud.”

After spending a morning looking through the raw tsunami and earthquake video uploaded to YouTube, it is clear traditional news media and journalists could never provide the level of un-edited footage available through the Internet.  We will still watch CNN (and other stations) to learn more of the big picture, but it is clear the future will have that big picture produced through the efforts of individual citizens, at a level much higher than we have been exposed to in the past.

A Look Into Moldova’s ICT Spirit with Grigore Raileanu

Moldova has a lot of entrepreneurs.  As you walk along the streets in Chisinau, the capital city, you constantly pass signs advertising software development companies, data centers, and computer sales.  As citizens of a “developing” country, young people know they need to work smarter, harder, and more creatively to compete with not only each other, but also others countries in Europe and the world.

Grigore Raileanu is one of those aggressive young people.  And an entrepreneur with a successful company named Remsys.  In fact, you may not even know Remsys is a Moldovan company, possibly believing it is based in the US!

Grigore met with us on 4 Feb 2011 to talk about ICT, innovation, and Moldova.  You can listen to the audio file HERE

John Savageau: Today with have with us, Mr. Gigore Raileanu, who does business development with a Moldovan company called Remsys.  Good afternoon Grigore!

RaileanuGrigore Raileanu: Good afternoon John and everyone!

John Savageau: So, please start us off and give us a little background on yourself, and give us a little background on Remsys.

RaileanuGrigore Raileanu: I’m actually doing business development for my first company Remsys.  This company has successfully grown to thousands of systems, managed systems, and heterogeneous infrastructure.  We are positioning ourselves as a managed solutions provider for small and medium businesses.

We are also doing 24 hours (a day) custom technical solutions for our clients, and we are designing and managing complex infrastructures, networks, fighting SPAM, and building clouds.

John Savageau: That’s exciting.  I believe that Remsys has roots based in web hosting and managed services, are you expanding on the initial concept of the company?

Grigore Raileanu: At first our customers were mainly hosting companies, but as I said we have repositioned as a managed solutions provider for small and medium business.  So it’s not only hosting and the like, but our customers quite big, and we even have video-on-demand providers and medical companies.  So it’s not only hosting.

John Savageau: And you are not just limited to Moldovan companies, you also go outside of Moldova?

Grigore Raileanu: Well our companies (clients) are mostly out of Moldova.  A lot of the Moldovan companies we are working for, are actually subsidiaries of foreign companies.

John Savageau: So let’s move on and talk a little about Moldovan ICT.  We’re curious, (you) being an entrepreneur and running your companies.  How do you feel about the ability of Moldovan companies, not only to compete in Moldova against foreign companies, but also within global markets?

Grigore Raileanu: In my opinion Moldovan companies are highly competitive.  Firstly because of costs.  Our teams are delivering full project lifecycle from development and testing, to technical support, and hosting.

ICT companies in Moldova are mostly oriented to business process outsourcing, like software development, testing, or eCommerce.

Many private companies are opening and operating their offices here in Moldova.  This way our companies can be considered as competing on the global market.

John Savageau: Do you have any significant strategies, or ideas you use to make your company – or other Moldovan companies competitive in a global market?

Grigore Raileanu: Actually we are working to improve our technical team skills, our procedures, training, participate in different expositions in order to get more skilled people.

John Savageau: Do you believe the academic community, or education system,… are they preparing workers well enough to compete in the workforce, or to meet your needs with technical or management-level talent?

Grigore Raileanu: I think that our academic community can do it better.  Actually, the universities are not able to satisfy the demand.  Most importantly the quality of studies has to be improved a lot.

Companies spend a lot of resources and money in order to educate and graduate students, as the university’s programs are outdated and need to be revised.

John Savageau: And how about the teachers and instructors,… are they prepared to teach students what they need, or do the instructors also need to increase their capacity?

Grigore Raileanu: Yes, as far as I know, our teachers are also working in ICT companies, so mostly they are involved in the continual process of education.

John Savageau: As far as the students, do the students also have an opportunity to have internships or participation with priovate companies while they are in university?

Grigore Raileanu: Yes, even the ICT Association has such programs, and are running internships, and Moldovan students are participating and gaining knowledge – they are even getting to know the companies they may work with in the future.

John Savageau: Outside of Chisinau, Chisinau being the largest city, with obviously the most resources available – how about the countryside – what is the future of children in the countryside for participating in ICT?

Grigore Raileanu: I think we need to consider that people should not orient towards Chisinau only.  We have a lot of great place like Balti, Cahul, Tiraspol, and we must build our IT development centers there as well.

John Savageau: Is there a  partnership opportunity between private companies and the academic community, or private companies and the government for that matter?

Grigore Raileanu: Actually, yes.  Our association of private IT companies is doing that.  They are doing a lot to improve the situation, and also to change the educational programs and curriculum for our universities.  Also, work with the government to get better conditions for taxes.

Up until this year there was no tax for programmer’s or software engineer’s income.

John Savageau: Let me move on to a different topic, that is cloud computing.  This is a big buzzword.  Everybody around the world talks about cloud computing.  Is cloud computing important to your company, or to Moldova?

Grigore Raileanu: I think yes.  Actually, like you said, cloud is a buzzword, every speaks about cloud, but people understand different things about this.

In my opinion, the cloud is infrastructure able to scale on demand, it is highly secure, and able to decrease IT costs.  Cloud computing will have a significant impact on Moldova, but there is still no market for this in my opinion.

We have to create, and stimulate this market somehow.

I’ve also heard that our government is going to launch, or already launched, a Moldavian cloud project.  It is looking to improve the government, and its subsidiary state corporations by owning the highest available and scalable IT infrastructure.

John Savageau: How about Software as a Service (SaaS).  There are a lot of software companies, specifically in Chisinau.  Do Moldovan companies have an opportunity to develop SaaS applications on a global scale?

Grigore Raileanu: Well, yes, and we are already doing it.  But it is not for internal use, I mean it is not for the Moldavian market.

John Savageau: Is that still an opportunity to learn those skills and be prepared once cloud computing is a factor in Moldova?

Grigore Raileanu: I thin kwe have many things to learn, and improve, in order to create and launch this market.  But yes, there is a place for this market here in Moldova.

John Savageau: How do you believe that Moldovan companies should approach the global market?  Again, we know there is business inside Moldova, but there is also a very large world outside of Moldova – how do you approach that global market?

Grigore Raileanu: Moldova has a lot of companies that are subsidiaries and offices of global companies.  Moldova has to deliver something better in order to compete with countries like India, the Philippines, and so on.  So I think that we will lead by our cultural approach, we are more closed to the occident compared to the Indians or Philippines.

John Savageau: For people who are adults, or have not grown up in the Internet age from childhood accessing Facebook, Skype, and things like that where it is normal, how does the 25~40 age group – how do you think they are going to globalization of communications, and societies and things – are they ready for it?

Grigore Raileanu: Yeah, I am sure they are, it’s not really hard.  From my experience I have talked with people who have never seen a computer.  And if that person is young, has elementary skills, they can work it out and improve their skills.

John Savageau: What so you see as a future for Moldova?  I mean if you have a white board, and you have any idea that you want to put on the white board, what should Moldova do to make itself more competitive, and become a factor in the global economy or in the global marketplace?

Grigore Raileanu: I think Moldova has to orient on mobile services, startups, and even why not build centers for startups to meet investors, governments, and work together to launch some new companies with new ideas.

Maybe the next Facebook will be launched right here in Moldova!

John Savageau: If the Moldova cloud, the government cloud, actually moves forward as aggressively as it does (is planned), that might be one of the first successful cloud projects in the world (government clouds), which means that Moldovan companies that participate would be able to replicate that process in other developing countries in Africa, eastern Europe, Asia,..

How do you feel about that?  Are you ready to go there?

Grigore Raileanu: Of course, being a patriot, I would be very happy because my country is one of the first countries able to launch this project and to give a good example for different countries.

John Savageau: Any other ideas you would like to pass on to the global ICT community, about Moldova, your company, yourself?

Grigore Raileanu: Well my company, we are starting some nation-wide programs, and we are very present on the Moldavian market, and maybe we will have some meetings this year, and bring our services into the (global) market, and if there is no demand for some kinds services we will try to create it, so everyone can benefit.

John Savageau: Thank you very much for taking the time this afternoon.  I wish you and Remsys, and Moldova the best of luck.

How Moldova’s Academic Community Prepares Students for the Internet Age – An Interview with Dr. Victor Besliu

On 2 Feb 2011 we met with Dr. Victor Besliu, Chairman of the of Automation and Information Technology faculty at Moldova Technical University.  Dr. Besliu is a graduate of the Moscow Technical University, and has many strong ideas and recommendations for how Moldova can make students and graduates more competitive not only in the Moldova ICT community, but also the global community.

The interview was conducted mainly in Romanian language, with translation done by Ion Stanciu.  You can listen to the entire audio recording of the interview in Romanian HERE.

Main topics discussed during the interview included;

1.  His opinions on Moldova’s eReadiness

  • He conducted extensive research on the topic during 2005 and 2009
  • Moldova still has only a couple of universities with curriculum focusing on ICT (information and communications technologies)
  • Moldova Technical University (MTU) does offer a major in computer science
  • MTU has around 500 graduates from the program each year
  • Moldova currently has approximately 1500 professional, qualified ICTR specialists working in government and private industry
  • He considers the quality of Moldovan graduates quite high, as most are actually being recruited to work in foreign countries following university

2.  His opinions on how well Moldova is meeting the needs of children, preparing them to function and succeed in an Internet and computer-enabled world.

  • Children at a young age need access to ICT tools, and are able to quickly absorb the technology
  • If children are given access to computers and Internet too early, they could run a risk of slipping into a virtual world, and not being able to function correctly in social environments

3.  On distance education and eLearning

  • Moldova currently has no legal framework for eLearning, meaning formal credits towards degree programs are not available through online education
  • The academic community has begun discussion and planning to consider the question of incorporating eLearning into the curriculum, however that is still an open topic
  • There has not historically been a culture of lifelong learning in Moldova
  • Historically paper (degrees and diplomas) has been given higher status and more respect than experience or knowledge
  • Some face-to-face interaction in the education process is important

4.  On adult education

  • In the old days of the Soviet Union, there were age restrictions on persons entering degree programs (35)
  • Today, in Moldova, there are no age restrictions, allowing any person with prerequisite qualifications to apply for formal university programs
  • Many students from foreign countries apply to, and are accepted, into Moldova’s university system

5.  On how to make the Moldova education system more capable in meeting the needs of all students

  • Politicians must understand the role of communications, computers, and ICT education in the future of Moldova
  • Increase educator salaries and benefits to the level being a teacher in Moldova is an attractive profession
  • Many instructors are already working in private companies part time, allowing them to not only increase their income to the point of survival, but also to keep on top of new and emerging technologies
  • They are changing the university curriculum every 2~3 years based on technology and emerging ICT trends
  • Provide more opportunities for student internships in local companies to give them more practical knowledge of the concepts and theory learned in classrooms
  • Continue tracks within the ICT faculty that allow students to take courses to the degree level taught entirely in a foreign language, including French and English
  • Continue to emphasize beginning Internet and computer exposure into education system from the beginning – young students need to develop tacit knowledge of this technology and become computer/Internet literate not only to function in the workplace, but also in normal society

On a positive note, Dr. Besliu acknowledged many of MTU’s graduates are now well-positioned in Moldova companies, and that trend is expected to continue.  In addition, Many Moldovan expatriates are now returning home, further reinforcing Moldova’s ability to support development of a knowledge economy.



Please check Moldova technical University’s website for more information on their programs and activities.

Audio file for entire interview (in Romanian language) HERE

Managing Disasters with Ken Zita and Network Dynamics Associates

In the communications profession we find two categories of people.  Those who are well known, show up at the best conferences, events, and parties – and those who spend their careers behind the scenes doing the heavy lifting of planning, construction, installation, and operations.

Ken Zita falls into the latter category.  Starting his career as a journalist, then moving on to telecoms and international communications infrastructure, he has taken the “road less traveled” for most of his professional life.  A road that has taken him to more than 50 countries, most with names the average American cannot identify, spell, or locate on a map.

Ken spent a few minutes with Pacific Tier on January 19th to talk about disaster management and operations continuity.

AUDIO FILES:  You can listen to the entire interview with Ken Zita HERE online at Pacific Tier Communications

Pacific Tier: Ken, tell us a little about yourself and Network Dynamics

Ken Zita - Network DynamicsKen Zita:  Well, we came out of the telecom industry, and still work in it – well, I don’t really know what telecom is anymore…  but its something about information management and networks.

We design strategies, policies, and investment plans for all kinds of clients in nearly 50 countries around the world.  Lately we’ve been doing a lot of public sector, which means that we’re advising governments on national transformation strategies related to ICT.

Pacific Tier::  Well that’s exciting.  This morning we’d like to focus and concentrate on the topic of disaster management, and possibly a little bit about cloud computing since that’s a high interest item.

Tell me, how did you get started with disaster management, and what is Network Dynamic s doing with disaster management?

Ken Zita:  We got involved right after the Asian Tsunami.  Essentially what happened is the United States government allocated, the United States Congress allocated, $16 million for technical assistance for ICT systems and services to help the countries that were hardest hit to develop risk mitigation and disaster management strategies.

And the long and short of it is that we helped stand up the National Crisis Management Center in Sri Lanka, the Tsunami Warning Center in Thailand, and the National Disaster Management Planning Agency in Indonesia.

So I got very deeply involved in understanding the government politics, and different kinds of systems.  We actually saw something real get built, which are Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs) and downstream warning networks in those countries.

it was very satisfying, but that goes back a few years already, and since that time we’ve advised a number of countries on things like flood management systems, and we’ve also looked at municipal level incident management systems, or crisis management systems.

And if I might, I’ll tell you about two things I’m working on right now.

One is actually in China, where we’re looking at three large scale projects in the emergency management sector.  One of those is related to emergency medical services, meaning how do you design a framework for emergency response in the medical vertical.

The second is looking at dam and reservoir safety.  Because I think we can understand there are a lot of dams in China, and a lot of them are quite old.  And this leaves populations vulnerable if anything should happen to them.  So how do you manage those, and how does it effect the flood waters and rivers, and so on.

The third area, I think is really a growth topic, is a provincial wide environmental management system.  That is to say an emergency management system for environmental crisis.  So how do you manage and keep track of pollutants in the air, and heavy metals in the air,water tables and so on, so you can be prepared and ready as incidents may happen.

And they will (incidents), as we know with the environment in highly industrialized areas such as China.

So those are the China projects, and I’ll elaborate in a second.

Now the China projects – to some degree, and the early warning systems, are really more a systemic management of crisis situations.  There is a whole other realm of disaster management related to first response.  Because time has shown the most loss of life happens within the first 36 hours after a major event.  Like a tsunami, like an earthquake, or flash flood.

And, getting people out, or dispatched quickly is what its all about for the emergency responder subsector of disaster management..

So, in Asia-Pacific, which incidentally is where well over 90% of the fatalities in disasters happen world wide.  So when you think about the whole world with all the earthquakes and all the floods, and all the fires, and everything else, the most loss of life and loss of property happens in the Asia-Pacific region.

We are currently advising the United States Pacific Command, that’s to say the military out of Honolulu, and 22 other militaries throughout Asia-Pacific, a 22 country effort, for something called the Multi-National Communications Interoperability Program.  While this is a big long military name, it is commonly known as Pacific Endeavor.

What Pacific Endeavor is, is a way to use information technology of all sorts to improve interoperability among military forces for natural disasters.  So this is not about military stuff, it is not defensive exercises or strategic – its really how the can coordinate better with one another using ICT frameworks.

Our role specifically is to create a bridge between the military world and the non-military world.  Meaning the United Nations, large non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and industry.  So, all the big technology companies which are coming up with social network platforms, cloud computing platforms, multi-protocol radios, and so on.

We’re actually coordinating a lot of that. for Pacific Endeavor.

So a couple different thoughts.  The emergency response, disaster management, and how ICTs are being used to address these problems.

Pacific Tier::  Excellent.  Actually I have several different questions now related to government disaster planning in general, regional disaster management between governments, but one thing I am going to ask right off the top, when you talk about communications, recently – particularly in California where I live, social networking media has become a very important part of the disaster response and disaster management process.

Specifically things like Twitter when you have wild fires, as Twitter actually get to people faster than other notification method.  How do you feel about social media and the future of social media in disaster management and disaster response?

Ken Zita:  Well its hugely powerful, and its where our world is right now, where we’re shifting to this more real-time environment.  In general, we are moving toward real-time information flows among people.  And the challenge I think is knowing how social media affects each aspect of the response.So for people who have got to get out of their houses, having a Twitter feed, that’s really terrific.

But there is almost a parallel universe of the emergency responders themselves.  The police, fire, the National Guard, who don’t necessarily talk to each other either.  But they have these legacy systems, and they have legacy incident command systems.

The question is how to you put together, or match up the structured data of a hierarchical command and control system..  A traditional C4I* type of system, with the unstructured information flows that come through Twitter feeds or social media and other things (such as SMS, video email, etc).  It is possible to put together really interesting situational awareness, such as with a neighbor who has a cell phone camera for broadcasting.  That’s really, really powerful.

But the question is whether the incident commander has the bandwidth, both literal and figurative, to be able to look at all those kinds of feeds that might be sent to some source, in addition to do what they need to do to coordinate their own response.

I think there is a certain inflection point where I think, certainly in the US, where the response authorities know that this information is hugely valuable that shows a real pulse, on real life, and there is great situational awareness that can be obtained.  But then how do you design a framework for all that information flow to be manageable?

Including some of the stuff that may not necessarily be public.

Pacific Tier::  How do you feel the governments are doing in general?  Are they meeting the needs of the people, are they meetings the needs of a disaster management process? Or are there serious shortfalls that we both technically and organizationally need to overcome?

Ken Zita:  Well I think that a lot of people have the best intentions, and people try hard.  But its no secret that George W. Bush’s presidency collapsed not on the lunacy of the Iraq war, or the mis-management of Afghanistan, its more over the mis-management of Katrina.

it was a very important lesson, I think for other countries.  As I travel around, I think others have seen what happens when you sit back on your heels and don’t act.  So for example in China, which has its own internal political dynamic, after the Wenchuan earthquake, the president was there almost immediately.  He was there with a retinue of cameras, he was there with the Army, and looked very much in control of the situation.

So there is a perception if you don’t do something, following what happened during Katrina, you can really lose your job.

So I think the political awareness has gone way up.  Part of that can actually be attributed to something that the UN has formed.  it is call the UN International Strategy on Disaster Reduction (ISDR).  They have a permanent secretary in Geneva.

Basically they are trying to get governments around the world to agree to a platform for disaster reduction and disaster management.  And there are lots and lots of measure that they’re doing.  But suffice to say that there are governments all over the world that have signed on to this, saying “we think it is important,” increasingly having the prima minister and the president’s office saying “OK, this really matters.”

So that’s at the political level.

The you have to come down to the real-life level.  We all know from 9/11 the police and the fire were not talking.  We know about the debacle in the United States at the 700Mhz auction that was just a total boondoggle – poorly conceived and poorly executed.

I can point to examples all around to why it is not working.  Part of it is just because people don’t understand that its not just about technology.  You have to put together an organizational and leadership process to prepare people for what it takes to have an effective response.

So its kind of a blend.  The world is waking up to it.  But there is a lot of work to be done for consultants!

Pacific Tier::  Let me move on to a slightly different topic.  You had mentioned Indonesia, the tsunami, and the pain that caused.  Having worked in Indonesia extensively myself, one of the topics that  comes up frequently is the loss of data.  Particularly land management data and things like that in the Banda Acai area.

Due to the fact it wasn’t digitized, and wasn’t in a location where it could be backed up or put in a file in some other part of the country.  How do you feel about disaster management of data and the communication systems, and if I can make a transition and throw cloud computing as a current buzz word in there.. How do you feel about the digitization of data in countries and how that impacts the ability to  maintain continuity of a government in the event of a major disaster?

Ken Zita:  Well we don’t even have to limit it to disasters.  I’m a big proponent of the cloud-type metaphor, but you know there is a little bit of hype associated with cloud computing (as you well know…).

Vintage EarthquakeThe biggest challenge now for most low and middle-income countries is making the transition from paper to electronic storage of information.  There are lots of other problems, but basically they are being thrust from this traditional system where land records are done on a piece of paper and just jotted down, right?

Then into the world of what we can do.  Imaging, GIS, and other cloud-based applications and so forth.

So the questions is, “is this another leap frogging opportunity,” where its possible to help governments make this transition basically layering a whole scale solutions to digitization, rather than just doing vertical solutions.  A lot of times you have someone who does eGovernment solutions for land management, to use your example, someone else will do passports, or a healthcare system.  And its just taking forever, because you are really just shipping computers in (to the country).

And if you think in terms of continuity and resilience, as a product set, or product area for government .  Public sector continuity there is a huge, huge opportunity across the emerging markets. So I’m all for it.  It works like in an enterprise backup center, you just have to have the hot backup and shared facilities.

Pacific Tier:  One more question, and a very open-ended question.  how do you feel about the future of disaster management, government continuity, or even enterprise continuity?  Where do we go to from here?

Ken Zita: I’ll address that on a level I’ve been working most, kind of between the UN, industry, and the NGOs.  And I should add, the militaries.  So, kind of the institution of it.

There’s a lot of cool stuff that’s happening on the edge of the network, like the “crisis commons,” and the “boot camp.” The developer activity where you have a bunch of programmers who are trying to hack some new and exciting tools for social media, and for mobile phones, and for people.  That’s all very great.

There’s more of that to come .  But at the same time what I’m seeing is that there are the beginnings of some helpful collaboration, and some new tools that are being designed at the institutional level, and what I’m talking about is UN OCHA, which is the refugee organization of the UN, there is the World Food Program, the United Nations Development Program – they are actually starting to design architectures, web-based architectures, device architectures for mobile…

They are going to make things a whole lot easier between constituencies.  Because traditionally you have, each organization has its own data silos, its own hierarchy, and its own reporting structure.  And if we’re going to get to a point where the institutional players and the social media – where user data is really interchangeable, really interoperable, we’re going to have to develop kind of a next generation of portals for information sharing.

So collaboration right now is going from voice to voice, you have to get mobile radios to work with each other, into some very small degree of information sharing , we’ll get into more situational awareness and we’ll be getting into video.

And all that’s going to happen at a portal level so there will be an easier flow – and a richer exchange at the disaster site, and of course for the reconstruction process.

It’s kind of nuts, how its been done lately, where you’ve got all these different organizations with their own VSAT terminals, their own databases, their own reporting structure, so nobody is seeing what each other are doing.  That’s not healthy.

So, at the institutional level it is actually being worked out a bit.  And I think that when some of the bigger building blocks are in place that it will create a framework for the creativity  and innovation at the edge.  Meaning, the crisis camp type developers.

Its still a pretty murky area.  There’s not a lot of money committed to it.  There are a lo of people who want to do well by helping,  But its still, you know its one of these things like shouldn’t we have figured this out a long time ago – but at least the technology is here, and there is a lot of activity and energy (available) to try ands make something better.

Pacific Tier:  Those are great insights, and I certainly appreciate you taking the time this morning to talk with us about it, and hopefully sometime around the end of this year we’ll be able to follow up and see how you feel what progress we’ve made as an industry and institution.

Again, thank you very much for taking the time!

KEN ZITA, President of Network Dynamics Associates (www.ndaventures.com), specializes in opportunity definition, strategic marketing and policy formation at the highest levels of the technology, financial and government worlds.  He is widely regarded as a visionary on the strategic impacts of technology on national development; has deep, comprehensive and eclectic knowledge of the telecom and information services sectors; and has worked in nearly 50 countries worldwide.

*C4I stands for command, control, communications, computers, and (military) intelligence

AUDIO FILES:  You can listen to the entire interview with Ken Zita HERE online at Pacific Tier Communications

Social Networking through Disaster – Exercise24

A massive earthquake hits the California coast near Huntington Beach between San Diego  and the Baja Peninsula. Of course it was not real, it was an exercise managed by San Diego State University’s VisCenter and InRelief.Org called Exercise24.   Exercise24  was planned as “an open, ‘no fault’ environment for nations, organizations and the global community to explore collaborative technologies and develop solutions to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief challenges,” wrote George Bressler, SDSU adjunct faculty member and lead coordinator of X24.

The Role of Social Media in Disasters

TweetingWe’ve looked at the use of Twitter and other social media tools in previous articles on fires in Santa Barbara, Haiti, Chile, and preparing for the non-event tsunami in Hawaii.  As a tool, instant one-to-many and many-to-many real-time interactive messaging  has tremendous value.  Where broadcast media and law enforcement have shortfalls in the lag time between and event and notifications, instant messaging can give real-time, “as it is occurring” updates to a wide audience.

Exercise 24 (X24) was an attempt at gaining a greater understanding of how to more effectively use tools such as Twitter and Facebook during emergencies.  Objectives included:

Objective One

Utilize the computing cloud to rapidly converge geographically dispersed global experts at the onset of a simulated international incident, deploy a foundation of guidance in concert with community leaders in a manner that empowers community members through education and smart technologies to support mitigation, response, recovery, and a resumption of societal normalcy at a level of functioning an order of magnitude higher than existed before.

Objective Two

Leverage smart phones, ultra-lights (United States), and unmanned air systems (Mexico) for rapid threat/damage assessment of a simulated seismic event that generates a significant oil spill off the coast of Southern California and Northern Baja California, as well as damage to critical infrastructure inland that necessitates mass sheltering of displaced community members.

Objective Three

Leverage the power of NGOs, faith-based groups, rapidly responding government and corporate groups, international groups, social networking communities as occurred in Haiti, and other resilient networks to locate and notionally send aid to Southern California and Baja California

Additional objectives included stressing connections and capacity of social networking sites and Twitter to determine network and capacity load limitations, as well as the ability to filter “noise” from valuable information if needed to ensure the delivery of information and requests for help could be both understood and managed.

Do you remember CNN and the other major news outlets carrying real-time interviews with citizen journalists via Skype immediately after the Chilean Earthquakes?  A laptop computer with a camera and audio kit, and the world was getting on-the-scene reports from Conception as events unfolded – hours and days before news crews could get on the scene.

ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR:  “Indeed, we will have more breaking news coverage of this Chile earthquake, as you would expect. We are going to check on next what’s happening on the Internet. We have social network sites busy talking about the disaster. We’re going to of course bring you what they’re saying.”

We hope to ultimately ‘connect the dots’ for data fusion and pattern recognition in homeland security and homeland defense” said Eric Frost, director of San Diego State’s Immersive Visualization Center (VizLab).

 The Future of Social Networking in Disasters

There are a few obvious problems we need to get through before twitter, or any other instant messaging service such as SMS, eMail, or other means of interactive and non-interactive messaging are completely suited to the task.

Messaging systems require access to network.  Without 3G, LTE/4G, WiFi, or terrestrial Internet access the systems won’t work.

Until every man, woman, child, and automated tripwire has access to a messaging-enabled wireless device, we will still have some shortfalls.

Look how thoughtfully this training simulation has been designed. There are reasons why Californians survive their turbulent environment.” (from Wired Magazine review on X24)

Yes, this is true.  The more prepared we are, the more effectively we can respond, and recovery from disasters.  The more tools available, both intellectual and mechanical, the greater our chances of survival and recovery.

Keep your eyes on organizations such as InRelief.Org, and participate in upcoming disaster response exercises as able.  Maybe trite, but in reality, the life you save might be your own or a loved one.

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