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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited
Let us step into the realms of science fiction: imagine the scene: an earthquake has struck a major city. Telephone links are out; roads destroyed or covered in debris; hospitals destroyed or isolated through lack of roads; railway structure destroyed; water and electricity supplies are non-functional; there are dead and injured as far as the eye can see through the dust. Survivors are staggering around trying to help the injured as best they can. Tearing at the rubble with their bare hands and pieces of wooden debris to try and rescue family and friends trapped amongst the rubble. What they need is fast assistance and knowledge.
Step into the picture Mr I. Technology. In his hand he holds a small device. Deftly tapping the keys he alerts the world to the disaster, calling in aid from far away places. He has informed them of the extent of the destruction and the type of supplies, resources and personnel that are needed immediately.
He then begins to read from the small device the most appropriate manner to rescue the trapped survivors using the materials to hand; he is able to give precise instructions on how to stem bleeding wounds; he can give instructions on how to sterilise the water supplies; how to preserve the meagre food supplies; how to build shelters from the material in the rubble; how to treat those suffering from shock; how to create a list of the missing. Now imagine the effect that this hero has on the survivors. He quickly becomes the source of all knowledge, a Mecca for guidance and information. Imagine now that there are 50 of these super-heroes that have survived the disaster. What impact would this have on the emergency response?
Well, that piece of science fiction is only a few months away. Telecommunication companies are on the brink of releasing an affordable hand-held mobile phone with satellite linkage that can access the World Wide Web. The missing link is the knowledge base on how to respond to disasters irrespective of type, cause, nature or extent.
These devices will be little more than gadgets to emergency response personnel if they cannot systematically access the information that they need urgently. At present a keyword search of the Internet using "disaster" will produce thousands of Web addresses. That would be useless in a crisis event.
What is needed is specialised information, easily accessed with the minimum of keystrokes. A database with current information created from the mass of information available. A database with "best practice" information that is easily accessible from anywhere in the world using these simple and easily affordable devices.
The telecommunications industry has given us the gift of the gods and it is up to us, the emergency response personnel, to maximise the potential that this offers. This will mean breaking down traditional barriers; it will mean some giving way on their personnel system beliefs; it will mean true co-operation and co-ordination across the areas of response worldwide; it will mean the unification of information from the four corners of the earth and the right of access to that information without copyright or patent conflicts.
It is the challenge of the new millennium for emergency response personnel to adopt the new technologies that are on offer and to maximise the potential that they can provide.
Henry C. Wilson