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.

Social Media Enabling Asia

The Huffington Post recently posted a blog by Thomas Crampton highlighting some of the differences between social media use in Asian countries vs. the United States. Much of it driven by broadband deployment in technically advanced countries like South Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong (yes, I know…), much of it a burning desire by young people in developing countries who want to expand their social and intellectual evolution.

Indonesia is now the second largest user of Facebook in the world. Poor broadband access (generally), low disposable income to buy personal computers, and moral guidelines pressuring young people to follow religious values. How is it possible they could develop that fast?

Growth rates in broadband and mobile access are astounding, with statistics such as Vietnam’s mobile Internet users growing 846% in 2009, 84.3% of Japanese online to the Internet with a mobile phone, and 48.6% of Hong Kong mobile users connecting with a smart phone.

Oh, and mobile phones in Asia are inexpensive. Really, really inexpensive. Almost anybody can afford a mobile phone, and many do – occasionally at the expense of clothing, food, and shelter. In fact, I was able to buy a prepaid phone with around 250 minutes in Jakarta for less than US$20, with messaging, simple data access, and other net-enabled applications.

So the mobile phone represents a means of communication, added to a basic social status issue, and a door to emotional and intellectual exploration and freedom.

What is different in Asia than in the US?

Well, a couple of things for certain. When you start with nearly zero social and technical penetration, and you have the benefit of receiving a relatively mature technology, then it is easy to statistically go from zero to nine hundred miles an hour.

Also, consider the average young person in a country like Indonesia or Vietnam. You go to the occasional movie, you have an opportunity to watch foreign television shows, and you realize it is a very, very big world. Lots of diversity you would not be exposed to without the benefit of technology. Even more, you understand there are real people living in that huge world who are not simple digital renditions of a movie producer’s fantasy.

The Internet helps bring a young person in Jakarta, Samarinda, Semarang, Banda Aceh, or Merauke to Paris, Cape Town, or Burbank. Facebook puts a name and face to distant lands, cultures, and people. And when that young person goes home to their dormitory, house, or relocation home they have a glimmer, even if it is a faint glimmer, of hope that life could be better than it is today.

And Internet access, with social networking provides an additional escape. Whether it be joining a virtual gaming community, or chatting with persons on a different continent, you are able to escape your surroundings for a brief moment. That moment may be in an Internet café (WarNets in Indonesia), it may be in a home, or it may be at school.

Of course, not everybody in Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia, or Laos are poor or underprivileged.

Social Freedom

Asian culture is different than western culture. In many countries it is not easy to be open with relationships, activities, or personal preferences. While American kids certainly find their escape in gaming and social networking, it is even more of an outlet for many young people in Asia.

If you live in a strict religious environment – as many in Asia do, which restricts your ability to freely express yourself in the local “real” community, being able to develop new ideas, discover new ideas outside the control of your “thought leaders,” is an attraction. Facebook and other social networking sites offer a global conduit of hundreds of millions of other people who may also desire to share experiences and ideas.

And the Future

In the past, Americans enjoyed a fair level of economic and social security based on high levels of education, and the desire to increase their status and quality of life. We looked at developing countries with little interest, and in fact many Americans still cannot find more than a dozen countries on a world map.

Young people in developing countries such as those in Asia, who are included in those astonishing statistics of locations rapidly embracing technology and social networking, are hungry. Hungry not only for knowledge, but also hungry to improve their quality of life, with an added hook of national identity and pride.

The intellectual skills gained through accessing Internet and diffusing global communications into their life will give those persons in developing countries the same intellectual tools American enjoy, putting them on a level intellectual playing field. With the additional ability to participate in eLearning, those intellectual tools become more important – particularly when compared to the dwindling education levels and achievements in America’s education system.

Social networking sites may help draw young people to the Internet, but once there the skills learned far outweigh the social value Facebook or other sites provide. With the largest countries in the world representing the fastest growing component of the internet (China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand), within another generation or two those young people may intellectually match or exceed the capabilities of their age group counterparts in the United States and Europe.

This is all good, as educated people generally are much more likely to quickly recover from disasters, are less likely to become involved in extremist movements, and are more likely to break down political, cultural, and secular barriers that have polarized nations in the past.

It is scary to Americans, as we will need to prepare ourselves to accept the rest of the world as our intellectual and economic equals. It is inevitable.

Citizen Journalism and Tweets bring Haiti’s Horror to the World

CNN has people on the ground in Port Au Prince. They use high performance satellite phones and transmission equipment to bring a Citizen journalists turn to Twitterfew shots from Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta to world viewers. That is what we expect from CNN. Then CNN begins the roll call of tweets from people within Haiti bringing real time news. Continuing with interviews using Skype with video direct from Haiti. And the innovative ideas on how to get the word out continue.

Fox news, MSNBC, all the major US news sources quote the information they are getting from the ground, or show videos received via Twitter and other social media tools. Most of the news we are getting via Twitter and social media is raw, simply passing on a snapshot in time. Then the news casters, with their back office of analysts and experts, are able to translate the news into a consumable item for American and international viewers.

This is citizen journalism at its best, bringing the news of nature’s worst to a global audience. It is important, as it brings the real news, direct to a global audience, without censorship. It tells us, as humanitarians, that our help is once again needed to support our fellow man in a distant land we May not even be able to find on a map. It allows CNN (as my preferred news source – you can pick your own) to give us “vetted” instructions on how to help. It gives you access to real time “tweets” on how to find out the latest news direct from the source (@cnnbrk/Haiti or #haiticnn).

Of course nearly all news networks and sources have a similar listing of sites to learn the best way for you to contribute – just log into the site of your choice. In California you can contact several great sites, including”

It probably makes no difference which site you use, just find a site with a vettesd and legitimate means of getting your donation to Haiti.

Go to your Twitter account and do a search on Haiti and you will find more sources of real-time information.

Tweeting Reality

Our world is changing. Whether it be a mobile phone with video or photo capability, internet-enabled computer, or wireless PDA, the ability for humans to provide real time event information is now at an unprecedented level. Could Twitter Founders Evan Willams and Biz Stone have envisioned their short messaging service, or micro-blog could potentially change global communications in 140 characters or less?

From wildfires in California, to airplanes landing in the Hudson, to the streets of Tehran, and to the horror of Haiti, Twitter is rapidly becoming the citizen journalist’s weapon of choice in delivering status updates on just about everything, with an uncanny ability to focus on real things when necessary.

Let’s get Haiti under our belt, and then start a deep dive into social networking, real-time information transmission and sharing, and find ways we can structure this tremendous resource into a much more easy, and logical process for users of all capabilities and knowledge. This is one of the world’s true disruptive technologies with a potential to change not only real time communications, but also media and journalism as we know it today.

A Day in Hanoi – Moving On to a Tech-Fueled Future

How do you get 6.2 million people up every morning, feed them, send them to work or school, and put a roof over their heads every night in a country where the average income of a worker is around $800 a year? Then answer is easy. Hard work, sacrifice, innovation, and an entrepreneurial spirit that is partially survival instinct, and mostly hope.

Motor Scooter Covered with HatsIn Hanoi it is easy to be confused while walking down a main street where many shops offer the latest in wide screen TVs and mobile phone technology, while navigating sidewalks busy with vendors trying to scrape a living by selling used books and bowls of dumplings.

We’ve been here before. Guangzhou in the early 1990s. Ulaanbaatar in the 1990s. Jakarta. Locations that are now littered with a Starbucks on every street corner, Mercedes Benz jamming the streets, and a hunger for opulence that has literally flipped the economy and quality of life on its back.

Does Hanoi have the same opportunity and appetite for success as other Asian countries? The intellectual and institutional tools to make s it happen?

Absolutely.

In the 1900s foreign tech companies would go to China to set up shop. Most had a twisted idea that if they sold a comb to one billion Chinese they would become wealthy, but others saw the potential of China as a place to build new business, and new business models not possible in their home countries. In the telecom Telecom and Power Cabling in Hanoibusiness we found university graduates with strong backgrounds in math, science, and physics – but had never actually touched a laptop computer or telecom switch.

Within a few months, with their strong academic training, the Chinese employees were overtaking their (in our case) American counterparts in both understanding the technology we were deploying, but also having a view into the future that was not nurtured in our home offices.

As a company we made the decision to let the China-based branch offices of our company loose to develop new products, software, and services based roughly on our company’s target market. The China office blew past our home office vision, and led the company into new areas of business that ultimately changed our entire service line – until we were eventually throttled back due to our business being contributed into a merger.

I see the same intelligence, capability, and burning hunger for success in Hanoi. The university graduates I meet are smart, really smart. Unlike the 1990s in China, Hanoi (and I assume many parts of Vietnam) already have some access to Internet technology. Very low cost Internet cafes dot the city, and a peek into the café reveals users are not playing games – rather they are using Facebook and other social media to communicate with expatriate relatives and friends, as well as making new contacts around the world.

Well-educated, and globalized.

Prioritizing Hanoi

There are several arguments possible on where and how Hanoi should focus their innovative efforts. The city infrastructure is appalling. Raw sewage floats down the sidewalks and street where children are playing. Tens Motor Scooters at an Intersection in Hanoiof thousands of scooters spew CO2 into the air. Low quality coal is used in homes for cooking and heat, spewing terrible levels of particulate into the air, as well as increasing the potential of illness due to CO2 poisoning in the home.

Clean water is also a commodity, and there is no assurance even tap water meets minimum international standards for health.

High voltage power lines are frequently running along the top of city sidewalks, and bundles of telephone and power cables drape their way across streets and intersections creating a situation that makes you pray there are no typhoons, earthquakes, or even irresponsible lorry (truck) drivers that may cause one of the utility poles to tumble into a crowded public space.

So the dilemma – should a city like Hanoi focus all its effort on rebuilding city infrastructure, or jumping into the 22nd century exploiting the capacity of their youth? Rhetorical? Maybe. Necessary? Definitely.

My suggestion would be to let the international agencies work with government to develop a strategy to rebuild the city’s infrastructure, and let the private sector develop the youth of Vietnam to build the basis for an economy and society for the next generation.

It would be a tragedy to force the youth of Hanoi, or any other developing country, to miss the opportunities of living in a global social and economic future driven by technology – and be forced to look forward to a life of selling used books to foreigners standing outside of the Hanoi Opera House, scraping enough money out of the sympathies of passing tourists, to find enough money to buy food to live through the next day.

Maybe there is a place for both. Maybe the youth can be trained to develop technologies that will help rebuild Vietnam’s infrastructure. The only problem that arises is that building infrastructure does not build products, provide exports, or support a market economy – it is merely a national cost center in a country that clearly is not in a position to afford a US-style deficit.

Back to the Future

But, when walking past an elementary school it is easy to become excited at the future of Hanoi. Young people must be smarter than our “baby boomer” generation, and they are being presented with basic intellectual tools to run with their dreams and visions. This will not be in competition to America or other country, but rather a new partner in developing a better world.

Given the experiences of China and Mongolia (my own experiences), I have deep empathy for the current sacrifices being made each day by the people of Hanoi, and great optimism that Hanoi’s quality of life and place in the globalized social community will level with the international community within the next generation.

John Savageau, Hanoi

A Communications Revolution is Happening – Will your business survive?

NOTE: Pacific-Tier Communications invites guest bloggers to provide articles that would be of interest, and benefit to our readers. This week we are happy to introduce Mr. Andy Slater, CMO, Presence Networks.

‘‘The ‘Command and Control’ management style enjoyed by many CEOs in the past has gone. Today teamwork and collaboration are the norm. Leadership the accepted management style, people orientated collaboration the culture, people centric technology the facilitator.’’

Andy Slater from Presence NetworksWe stand at a transition point in business. As the global economy starts to work its way out of recession CEO’s and management teams around the world are beginning to plan for growth. But they won’t do that by simply taking back into their businesses the bottom line costs they just spent 18 painful months getting rid of. The enlightened are looking for a new ways of working, how to unlock the people power in their organization in a secure and focused manner, to accelerate speed of decision making, reduce costs, and drive productivity.

Technology has been at the centre of social and industrial change since the printing press. Through history there have been transition points. The invention of the flying shuttle by John Kay heralded the start of the industrial revolution. The spread of democracy around the world can be traced to the invention of the telephone by Graham Bell and its adoption around the world. Suddenly totalitarian states could no longer constrain the flow of people’s ideas, information, and aspirations.

More recently mobile devices and the internet has accelerated the flow of information with images and video, so now international public opinion can be formed and galvanized by what were once isolated events. The video of student Neda Agha-Soltan’s shooting in Iran caught on a mobile phone started an outcry around the world which is still vocal today.

Social networking has become the norm for many who ‘tweet’ their way through the day sharing thoughts on everything, from the mildly interesting to the creative. The need to communicate is infectious and has a profound effect on the way we live – and work. Given a common cause, people power is unstoppable.

The ability of these new people networks has been recognized by business where the more enlightened maintain Online Brand protection programmes, write blogs, tweet, and endeavour to instigate viral campaigns to manipulate networks to their own advantage.

But is this relevant to business ?

A ‘company’ is called that simply because it is made up of people. How many companies say that their most valuable asset is their people? How true it is. Try running a railway without drivers or signal men, or running software development without programmers. People matter and leading managers recognize what’s happening in social networking can be harnessed to drive their businesses – people power, or business collaboration. Indeed, some would say it can’t be stopped – adapt or die.

The nature and culture of management in business has changed already. The ‘Command and Control’ management style enjoyed by many CEOs in the past has gone. Today teamwork and collaboration are the norm. Leadership the accepted management style, people orientated collaboration the culture, people centric technology the facilitator.

IT has to step up to this challenge to enable these new strategies – only if it can deliver business solutions, not just fancy names for the same technology, will it meet the true business need. Collaboration in the business environment is recognised as being one of the key tools CEO’s are looking at to drive productivity for the next decade – particularly if it can be delivered without complexity or capital investment.

To make the successful transition their vision has to be converted into a strategy. A strategy that addresses the three pillars of change – Culture, Technology and Process.

You can’t identify at the start of a shift in business culture all the business aspects that will be impacted, but you can describe the vision; a culture where information travels to the right people, any time, in any place, on any device. Where virtual teams form rapidly to solve business problems then dissolve just as quickly, without management intervention. No more ‘I sent an e-mail’ excuses but effective communication between empowered people.

The process of creating this culture needs to be led by a management that believes and demonstrates it through the way they act and how they communicate. The benefits are business processes that will be changed, new ones invented, and many scrapped. This is long term business development, a journey, not a light-switch change – but a revolution when looked back on from the future.

The technology to achieve this has to be invisible. People centric technology is intuitive, adopted because it engages its users, inspires and opens up new horizons. You know its right when your people can’t function without it.

Cloud Computing, Software-as-a-Service, and Unified Communications are all technical developments which alone do not deliver cultural change (except maybe in the IT department). These will be part of the solution, but are not the ‘end game’.

The application that runs in the world of the users, that gives them a real-time window on their business world, enables them to interact with people based on their availability, skills, interests and knowledge in a secure way, will be the deliverer of cultural change. This will be the application that grows productivity for businesses, for the next decade.

Andy Slater

You can contact Andy at andy.slater@pnglobal.net or visit Presence Network’s website at http://www.presence-networks.net

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