Following a Disaster
Television and radio provide periodic updates, usually quoting news reports from the affected countries. These news reports, however, are old news for those following the tragedy by way of blogs and the Internet. Tim Blair (see sidebar) has more current news than ABC, CBS, NBC, or CNN. There are several new blogs devoted solely to the tsunamis and their effect on the region. Here is a link to one. I found another yesterday while surfing, but can't seem to find it today. There are dozens of bloggers in the affected countries telling their stories, and showing photos (even videos, mostly amateur) of the destruction.
The response to the December 26th earthquake and tsunami show the growing power of weblogs to not only comment on events, but to track, report, and help respond to them. Hugh Hewitt's new book, "Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That is Changing Your World", isn't even out yet, and it probably already needs a revision. We saw something similar to this during the Florida hurricanes, but the response to the Sumatra earthquake has gone beyond that to a higher level - better reporting, greater diversity, faster interpretation of data, more linking, and better information sharing. Blogs have brought this disaster on the other side of the world into our homes and offices in an entirely new and different way.
The next big step for bloggers in emergency response situations is to build networks of blogs that can pinpoint specific requirements (food, water, clothing, transportation, medical help, emergency survivor contact, immunizations, etc.), and to be specific - "We need 14 doses of diptheria innoculation, 24 pairs of men's shorts (12 size 28, 10 size 30, 2 size 32), and ten cases of disposable diapers, size 12-24 pounds, in xyz village in Sri Lanka as soon as possible". Blogging, linked to people with cell phones, can provide exactly that kind of specific response, down to the individual level - on both ends. Donor and recipient can be matched, the material gathered at specified node points for shipment, and distributed through specified node points where it's needed. Transportation can be included in the equation by having airlines that are heading in that direction anyway accepting shipments for specific node points on a space-available basis. If there's not enough space available on airlines, contract shipments or military assistance can pick up the slack.
We're already seeing response times cut drastically. Twenty years ago, it would take weeks to learn of the needs, and for aid teams to respond. Today, the same response level is reached in days, if not hours. In the future, the response time may be even less, as more and more of the world becomes linked. There is no reason why blogs today shouldn't be networking to respond to emergencies. To encourage that kind of cooperation, however, two things have to remain in place - a free, uncontrolled Internet unhampered by taxes, political controls, social stigmas, and unnecessary charges; and the encouragement of those in the blogosphere to work together, to develop networks similar to current "alliances" and other groups, and to extend those to bloggers around the world.
There will be another effect of this kind of blogging, one far more profound than just the distribution of emergency assistance to those in need. There will be a growing number of one-on-one links between individuals across the globe. This will help establish a more harmonious world community - not a world government, but the building of individual trust between people spread all around the globe. It may not bring "Peace on Earth", but it'll go a long way toward reducing the friction between people and nations.