Becoming a Glass Explorer

Yesterday was the “big day”. I caught the train up to New York City to pick up my Google Glass. Yes, I’m now officially a Glass Explorer. It all started with one simple tweet:

 

 

and then this response from Project Glass:

Ever hear the question: “What does the dog do when it finally catches the car it has been chasing?” That’s how I felt when I read that tweet. With excitement mixed in. That same combination of feelings followed me the entire train ride up to New York City.

 

Google Glass's office in NYC
Google Glass’s office in NYC

I walked into the Google Glass office at least an hour and a half before my scheduled appointment time. The setup of their office made Apple stores look cluttered. The entire office is designed for the glass introduction, and they did a good job. There’s no reason to be late when travelling and it sure beats waiting at home to be just in time. The staff there was welcoming and in no time at all, I was on the floor with my very own Googler introducing me to Glass.

A little more on usability

About two years ago, I did a blog regarding usability. This video adds to that including my thoughts on BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and the impact on disaster technology. Regardless of how the future rolls out, the advances in technology should not make things more complex for the users. In fact, the additional computing power needs to be used to make work easier for the users.

When the going gets tough, hams get going

Reprinted from Urgent Communcations at http://urgentcomm.com/disaster-response/when-going-gets-tough-hams-get-going

When the going gets tough, hams get going

Mar. 19, 2013
Merrill Douglas | Urgent Communications

A handheld radio, portable antennas, extra batteries and cables, a soldering iron, clean clothes, snack bars and a length of rope.

That’s some of what you’ll find in a “go-bag.” And if you’re one of the many amateur-radio operators who volunteer during local emergencies, you always keep a go-bag packed. When disaster strikes, you grab it and rush to a Red Cross shelter, an emergency operations center (EOC) or some other activity hub to do what you do best — get messages through, despite all sorts of obstacles.

They don’t often get a lot of publicity, but amateur-radio operators — or “hams” — play an important role in emergency response.

“They’re a prime example of a grassroots effort,” said Keith Robertory, manager of disaster response emergency communications at the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C. “They live where the disaster occurs, and they already have the equipment, the knowledge of the location and knowledge of how the disaster would impact that location. So they’re immediately there and can start doing work.”

Hams often swing into action well before a storm or other event causes havoc on the ground. During hurricane season in the Caribbean, for instance, hams in that region keep their eyes on the weather out their windows, said David Sumner, chief executive officer (CEO) of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) in Newington, Conn. They use their radios to call in observations to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

As the storm passes, it might knock out power and damage antennas, “so they rig another antenna, start up the generator, and they’re back in business,” Sumner said

When hurricanes, blizzards, ice storms, earthquakes, tornadoes or other forces of nature cause widespread damage, hams get to work wherever they’re needed. In some cases, they transmit messages to take the place of two-way radio or phone systems that have been rendered inoperable in the aftermath of a disaster.

For instance, as Superstorm Sandy overwhelmed parts of the northeastern U.S. last October, some hams assisted regional hospital systems that had lost the ability to communicate among their buildings, Robertory said.

“Somebody would go to them and say, ‘We need this message passed to this building,'” he said. “They would get on the radio, call the amateur-radio operator in that other building, and give them the message.” The second operator then carried the message to the recipient.

Amateur-radio operators also help individuals contact family members, help the Red Cross conduct damage assessments and help get shelters established, Robertory said. For instance, people in a shelter might want to register on the Red Cross’s “Safe and Well” system to let family and friends know that they’re okay, but the shelter might not have power or Internet access at the time.

“An amateur-radio operator can call an amateur-radio operator somewhere else who has Internet access and relay information to put into a missing-persons database,” Robertory said.

Even when other networks are operating, ham operators take some of the load off those communications systems when traffic gets heavy.

Quick response

In the aftermath of Sandy, volunteers with the Greater Bridgeport Amateur Radio Club in Connecticut handled messages for three evacuation centers housing about 800 local residents.

“They were ready to take calls and dispatch people,” said Dana Borgman, press information officer for Region 2 of Connecticut Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), a volunteer organization. “The messages could be about supplies, logistics — any kind of reports.”

Public-safety communications networks in Bridgeport were operating at the time, Borgman said. Ham radios supplemented those channels. But, if the phone system in a shelter stopped working, hams could step into the void.

“If someone in a shelter needed to make a request, they could call someone at a different point, such as the EOC,” Borgman said. “They’d establish communication and say, ‘I have a request from the shelter manager. We need 200 cots and more fresh water.'” An operator at the other end would relay the request to the appropriate person.

Members of ARRL’s New York City-Long Island section provided similar aid after Sandy. At the time, Jim Mezey — now manager of that section — held the emergency coordinator’s post. Because he lives in Nassau County on Long Island, he focused most of his attention there.

“I did a lot of traveling,” he said. “I was without power for a while, so I used my mobile station to do most of my work. I also moved to the county EOC and worked with the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services (RACES)” — another volunteer group. For the most part, however, section members provided services to the Red Cross.

Finding enough manpower during the emergency became a bit tricky, because many of the radio volunteers from Long Island live on the hard-hit South Shore, Mezey said.

“They had their own problems with floods and losing power,” he said. “Their batteries lasted only so long, and that was it. No gasoline, no way to get around.”

Of course, for volunteers whose homes were flooded, taking care of their own families took top priority, he said.

Amateur clubs can swing into action quickly because they maintain ongoing partnerships with myriad emergency-response organizations. The ARRL has developed memoranda of understanding with 13 national organizations, such as the American Red Cross, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), the Salvation Army and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Many operators also take advantage of training opportunities.

“A lot of the amateur-radio operators are now becoming CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) members,” said Borgman. “Also, we encourage our members to take all of the ICS (Incident Command System) training.”

ICS training teaches operators about the structure of incident command and how to use standard terminology, rather than terms specific to police, firefighters, radio operators or other specialists.

Beyond delivering messages, hams offer a lot of miscellaneous technical assistance, some of which is quite ingenious, Robertory said.

“They like to ‘MacGyver’ things,” he said. “You’ll hear a lot of amateur-radio people say, ‘Give me a car battery, an antenna and a radio and I can communicate from anywhere.'”

In times of disaster, hams tend to be extremely flexible, Robertory said.

“In the morning, they’ll set up an antenna and start communicating,” he said. “They’ll set up a satellite dish for us, and then they’ll set up a computer. They’ll troubleshoot a printer, and then they’ll teach someone how to use the fax machine.”

Clearly, when the going gets tough, it’s great to have someone on hand with a go-bag, a radio — and the attitude of a ham.

Removing your Facebook foot prints

Think about it for just a moment.  Who looks at your Facebook history?  There are only two types of people who look back at what you’ve posted on Facebook: advertisers and stalkers.  The human-to-human interaction on social media is about the now.  It is not really much about last month let alone last year.  Continue reading Removing your Facebook foot prints

Why free stuff isn’t free

GiftI have heard too many times from people in disaster response: “If we can just get the product donated, then we can do…”  If a person or organization is willing to do a program only if it is all provided for free, they are simply stating that the program is not important enough to budget for it.  That attitude minimizes the value of the program and makes me wonder if it was important enough in the first place.  They miss the point on in-kind donations.  An in-kind donation is when someone gives you a something at no financial cost.  But don’t think it is free.  Free stuff is never free.  Everything in a supply and demand economy has a cost.  There are financial, time, resource costs associated with everything.

Let’s look at fictitious non-profit group Acme.  Acme has a mission to bring internet access to disaster survivors.  One of the tools they use is a widget and hundreds of widgets are used each year.  Each widget costs $100 and is produced by Ajax.  There are two ways to get widgets.  Acme can buy the widgets from Ajax using donated money, or Acme can ask Ajax to donate the equipment.  Procuring a widget meets Acme’s need regardless of how the widget is procured.

Acme’s fundraisers are tasked to raise the necessary funds to cover the organization’s annual budget.  As money is brought in to the organization, it is applied to the annual budget.  The money goes to offset the general (or core) expenses including facilities, salaries, program maintenance, daily operations … and the purchase of Ajax widgets.  In general, donors like to see where their money goes to know that they are making a difference.  That is what makes fund raising such a hard task; it is convincing the donor to give money and trust Acme to the right thing without being able to show them a specific thing that their money did.  There is another concept called a “directed donation” where funds are raised for a specific goal.  Directed donations are very commonly seen as capital improvement projects.  I’m leaving directed donations out of this discussion.

Donors are not restricted to just providing cash.  They can provide goods and services; this is an in-kind donation (IKD).  In-kind donations are unique because it should match Acme’s needs with what the donor has to offer.  (Receiving product that isn’t needed becomes wasteful in costs to ship, receive, store and dispose.)  When Acme receives an in-kind donation, it offsets expenses that would be spent otherwise to get the products. For our example of widgets, this is declared as income on Acme’s taxes, and a donation on Ajax’s taxes.  When Ajax decides to donate the widgets to Acme, Ajax is providing a value of products in lieu of a cash donation of the same value.

The end results of any of these actions is the same: Acme has widgets.  It didn’t really matter if the fund-raisers directly courted Ajaz for the widgets or had a third-party donor provide cash to buy the widgets.  The result is budget-neutral: the right amount of cash or products came in to match the same amount of expenses for the product procurement.

Here’s why free stuff isn’t free.  At the start of the year, Acme set forth a financial budget based on expected donations (IKD or cash) and expenses.  The cash value of the widgets that Ajax donated gets applied to the budget and reduces the cash that needs to be raised that year to buy widgets.  Ajax’s donation doesn’t free up Acme’s budgeted amounts to be applied elsewhere; the donation met the business needs of procuring widgets per the budget.  The budget is just a financial tool to manage incoming donations and outgoing expenses regardless if the donation show up as cash or IKD.  A budget is very different from an account balance of real money in the bank.  The hope is the budget, actual expenses and cash in the bank match up during the fiscal period.

In-kind donations often come with additional strings that are not part of a cash procurement.  The donations are usually large enough that the donor wants publicity which will help create an impression of the donor.  Here, Ajax wants to be able to publicize that they donated to Acme which helps create the public impression that Ajax is a good corporate citizen.  Acme and Ajax producing a joint press release to promote the relationship doesn’t take too much time.  But imagine if Ajax’s expectation is for Acme to take a photo and publish a story every time a widget is used.  The cost in Acme’s resources to meet that expectation could exceed the cost of just buying the widgets with cash.

So next time you hear that a project will only be done if product is given for free, ask the question if the product needs to be free or just be budget-neutral for the organization?

The disaster life-cycle and gun violence

I can’t believe the NRA’s video statement.  It really wasn’t a press conference; they didn’t engage or interact with the reporters.  The NRA leadership just spoke.  Twitter was rolling during the conference with immediate feedback on the conference.  The general sense of the comments made the NRA seem out of touch.  Their crisis communication team did such a poor job, they should all be fired.

A comment I heard later made some sense of it.  The NRA wasn’t talking to the general public.  They were talking to their core membership.  While I think the selection of the medium was incorrect, the message delivered should have resonated with the intended audience.  The broad reach of their selected medium had the consequence of broadening the divide in the debate instead of bringing the sides closer together.  Strategic forethought or unexpected consequence has yet to be determined.

The news today reported that two fire fighters were shot and killed responding to a house fire.  Horrific.  People responding to help others, yet shot for no reason.  I’m sure the NRA’s reaction is to suggest arming the fire fighters with guns when responding to a house fire.  Any normal person will realize that ammo and fire do not mix.

I had a realization.  The NRA’s push for more guns in qualified and trained hands isn’t consistent with the disaster cycle.  If we draw a parallel and consider the full spectrum of fire prevention, there are actions to take in each of the disaster phases.  Fire safety education, code enforcement and other efforts overlap to build a culture of prevention.

Imagine for a minute if our response to fires was to make more fire fighters.  More apparatus.  More fire extinguishers.  More wet stuff on the red stuff.  No building codes.  No children education.  No mitigation actions.  Hard to imagine, isn’t it?  The culture of fire prevention is so engrained in our society that it seems natural.  Despite how obvious it seems, we still beat the drum for fire prevention in our communities because we know it is the safest most cost effective method and we’re not 100% fire safe.

Fire prevention occurs throughout the entire disaster life cycle.

The NRA’s response seems to be stuck in the response phase.  The phrase: the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.  That is so short sighted.  The NRA is not looking at preparedness or mitigation actions that would have prevented the ‘bad guy with a gun’ in the first place.  That’s like saying: the only thing that stops a bad fire is a good guy with water.  It just isn’t true.  We could take action to stop the fire from starting in the first place.

A culture shift to reduce violence, particularly violence with weapons, will take a lot of work.  Emergency managers need to look at it with the perspective of the entire disaster life cycle.  Our experience with mitigation, preparedness and prevention is a vital perspective to include in this national debate.  Yet it is only one valid input.  There are so many other ideas that need to be brought to bear on the problem.

Let us hope that sensible solutions are not caught up in politics.

Let me add I am a gun owner and I used to be an NRA member for their educational services.  I believe that reasonable people can make a reasonable decision once the extremes viewpoints on both sides are called for what they are.

Before deleting a social account

The recent changes in Instagram almost made me delete my account.  I probably would have if it wasn’t for a lesson I learned with FourSquare a few weeks ago.  Deleting and erasing a social networking account is usually a fairly permanent decision.  All your history, links, scores and whatever are gone.  That can be a good thing.  Or not.

I was an early adopter of NetFlix and watched/rated quite a few movies (seriously like hundreds).  The system was really good at finding new movies to recommend.  When I cut back my expenses, I deleted my NetFlix account.  Fast forward a bunch of years to when I had children.  Now Netflix was great because I could stream shows on my phone for the kids in a restaurant so they don’t bug other patrons.  When I signed up for NetFlix the second time, all the ratings from the first time were still there.  Now I’m getting recommendations for movies like Dora the Destroyer.

FourSquare was a nifty little service that turned location check-ins into a game.  I did this for a while and amassed a large number of badges.  Then I considered what I was getting out of FourSquare.  All this data was pushed in but I didn’t get much out of it.  Naturally, I said “Badges, we don’t need to stinkin’ badges.”  I delete my FourSquare account.  A few weeks ago during the response to Hurricane Sandy, I was dropped into a location reporting discussion.  I hopped on a few social location check-in services including FourSquare.  FourSquare hooked me again.  Now I’m missing all the old badges and connections I had on FourSquare.

Instagram changed their terms of service.  A huge shockwave spread across social networks.  But instead of deleting my Instagram account as a knee jerk reaction, I stopped.  Would I ever come back to Instagram?  What if they adjusted their terms of service again?  What is the impact now that Facebook owns them?  Could someone take my screen name and pretend to be me?

I decided to keep my Instagram account but in an unused state.  After using an app to download all my images, I’ve deleted all my photos off the account except one or two.  For security reasons, I’ll “park” the account with an obscure password kept in my password vault.

Where to put all the images? I was debating between G+ and Flickr.  I opted to go with Flickr primarily because it seemed less tied into other social accounts.  It also had tools to allow bulk management of the images.  The advantage to G+ would be managing the images on my phone without another app installed.  We’ll see how it goes.

Fairfax County Roundup

Here are my Fairfax Roundup Speaker Notes from the Fairfax Roundup meeting.  The meeting is a great local event to build the community relationships between faith and community based organizations and the local government entities.  There were five breakout sessions.  My session was about technology in disasters.

For those who attended, additional details on the topics I spoke about can be found in the following blog entries.

PACE: http://keith.robertory.com/?p=664

Social Media: http://keith.robertory.com/?p=802

Public Notifications: http://keith.robertory.com/?p=732

Radio Types and Bands: http://keith.robertory.com/?p=674

Cellular Communications: http://keith.robertory.com/?p=676

Feel free to email me if you have any questions.

Thanks!

Historic Information Breakdowns

Risk managers study causes of tragedies to identify control measures in order to prevent future tragedies.  “There are no new ways to get in trouble, but many new ways to stay out of trouble.” — Gordon Graham

Nearly every After Action Report (AAR) that I’ve read has cited a breakdown in communications.  The right information didn’t get the right place at the right time.  After hearing Gordon Graham at the IAEM convention , I recognized that the failures stretch back beyond just communications.  Gordon sets forth 10 families of risk that can all be figured out ahead of an incident and used to prevent or mitigate the incident.  These categories of risk make sense to me and seemed to resonate with the rest of the audience too.

Here are a few common areas of breakdowns:

Standards: Did building codes exist?  Were they the right codes?  Were they enforced?  Were system backups and COOP testing done according to the standard?

Predict: Did the models provide accurate information?  Were public warnings based on these models?

External influences: How was the media, public and social media managed?  Did add positively or negatively to the response?

Command and politics: Does the government structure help or hurt?  Was Incident Command System used?  Was the situational awareness completed?  Was information shared effectively?

Tactical: How was information shared to and from the first responders and front line workers?  Did these workers suffer from information overload?

History

“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  — George Santayana

I add that in since few people actually know the source and accurately quote it.  Experience is a great teacher.  Most importantly, remembering the past helps shape the future in the right direction.

Below are a list of significant disasters that altered the direction of Emergency Management.  Think about what should be remembered for each of these incidents, and then how these events would have unfolded with today’s technology – including the internet and social media.

Seveso, Italy (1976).  An industrial accident in a small chemical manufacturing plant.  It resulted in the highest known exposure to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) in residential population.  The local community was unaware of the risk.  It was a week before public notification of the release and another week before evacuations.

Bhopal Methyl Isocyanate Release (1984).  An industrial accident that released 40 tones of MIC.  There was no public warning.  The exact mixture of the gas was not shared so the first responders did not know how to treat the public.

Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster (1986).  An explosion at the plant and subsequent radioactive contamination of the surrounding geographic area. Large parts of Europe and even North America were contaminated.  The Communistiic regime hid the initial information and did not share information until another country detected it.

Hurricane Hugo (1989).  At the time, this was the costliest hurricane disaster.  There was an insufficient damage assessment that lead to wrong resource allocation.  The survivors in rural communities were not located and responded to for many days.  Much of the response was dependent on manual systems.

Loma Prieta (1989).  A M7 earthquake that injured around 3800 in 15 seconds.  Extensive damage also occurred in San Francisco’s Marina District, where many expensive homes built on filled ground collapsed and / or caught fire. Beside that major roads and bridges were damaged.  The initial response focused on areas covered by the media.  Responding agencies had incompatible software and couldn’t share information.

Exxon Valdex (1989).  The American oil tanker Exxon Valdez clashed with the Bligh Reef, causing a major oil leakage.  The tanker did not turn rapidly enough at one point, causing the collision with the reef hours. This caused an oil spill of between 41,000 and 132,000 square meters, polluting 1900 km of coastline.  Mobilization of response was slow due to “paper resources” that never existed in reality.  The computer systems in various agencies were incompatible and there was no baseline data for comparison.

Hurricane Andrew (1993).  Andrew was the first named storm and only major hurricane of the otherwise inactive 1992 Atlantic hurricane season. Hurricane Andrew was the final and third most powerful of three Category 5 hurricanes to make landfall in the United States during the 20th century, after the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 and Hurricane Camille in 1969.  The initial response was slowed due to poor damage assessment and incompatible systems.

Northridge Earthquake (1994).  This M6.7 earthquake lasted 20 seconds.  Major damage occurred to 11 area hospitals.  The damage made FEMA unable to assess the damage prior to distributing assistance.  Seventy-two deaths were attributed to the earthquake, with over 9,000 injured. In addition, the earthquake caused an estimated $20 billion in damage, making it one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history.

Izmit, Turkey Earthquake (1999).  This M7.6 earthquake struck in the overnight hours and lasted 37 seconds.  It killed around 17,000 people and left half a million people homeless.  The Mayor did not receive a damage report until 34 hours after the earthquake.  Some 70 percent of buildings in Turkey are unlicensed, meaning they did not get approval on their building code.  In this situation, the governmental unit that established the codes was separate from the unit that enforced the codes.  The politics between the two units caused the codes to not be enforced.

Sept 11 attacks (2001).  The numerous intelligence failures and response challenges during these three events are well documented.

Florida hurricanes (2004).  The season was notable as one of the deadliest and most costly Atlantic hurricane seasons on record in the last decade, with at least 3,132 deaths and roughly $50 billion (2004 US dollars) in damage. The most notable storms for the season were the five named storms that made landfall in the U.S. state of Florida, three of them with at least 115 mph (185 km/h) sustained winds: Tropical Storms Bonnie, Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne. This is the only time in recorded history that four hurricanes affected Florida.

Indian Ocean Tsunami (2004). With a magnitude of between 9.1 and 9.3, it is the second largest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph. This earthquake had the longest duration of faulting ever observed, between 8.3 and 10 minutes. It caused the entire planet to vibrate as much as 1 cm (0.4 inches) and triggered other earthquakes as far away as Alaska.  There were no warning systems in the Indian Ocean compounded by an inability to communicate with the population at risk.

Hurricane Katrina and Rita (2005).  At least 1,836 people lost their lives in the actual hurricane and in the subsequent floods, making it the deadliest U.S. hurricane since the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane.  There were many evacuation failures due to inadequate considerations of the demographic.  Massive communication failures occurred with no alternatives considered.

 

Additional resources

 

Data in standard uniforms

Data standards

Standards are a common language for discussing and sharing data that can be approved or ad-hoc.  A standard is defined by the people who use it.  That is key.  In the end, it doesn’t matter if the standard is approved by a governing body or not.  What matters is that the people who use it agree to it.  When used properly, standards will save time and money, and ensure quality and completeness.

In a meeting about missing persons’ data standards it was stated that if the Red Cross, Facebook and Google agreed on a standard to share data, then everyone else will follow.  Not because the three organizations are a governing committee but instead they would be the three largest players in the space.

Data standards make it possible for you to share data within and between organizations.  They make it possible to compare different sets of data for improved analysis.  They form the basis of data infrastructure (framework for collecting, storing and retrieving data).

Here are a few examples of data standards: