Paramedics speak of the Golden hour after a heart attack when the patient stands the best chance of recovery with minimal damage , if brought to medical care. In many ways, the hours after any natural disaster / act of terror are as important , not only to save lives in danger but to also prevent further bloodshed or create panic.
Much has already been spoken of the support provided by people on social media such as Twitter with people aggregating contacts and details to provide quick responses to people stranded or in need of accommodation. However two immediate queries come to mind – a) Was this limited to exclusively Twitter users or did other non Twitter folk also receive help? b) was there any central point where all aggregated data was collated for future reference / to provide Government or NGO’s with immediate data points for help?
My point is not to belittle the important role that Twitter has played today but to take it one step forward. In the course of any natural disaster/ act of terror, it is but obvious that the phone networks are clogged and unresponsive. At such moments, alternative social networks like Twitter provide an alternative backup system for people to respond to and ask for help. In foreign countries, disaster management is a specialized science with distinct drills conducted for such events. In India, I fail to see either a disaster management plan or any coordinated drills with coordination between the Police, the Fire brigade and a centralized authority which has been monitoring the information and provide corresponding info to the parties involving in management. Equally important, we as a nation , need to accept that the citizens need distinct training. I refer to creation of specific citizen committees with clear demarkation of roles for people and clear evacuation plans for all buildings and major points. Regular drills need to be conducted so that we are also equally aware of what needs to be done.
I see great potential in exploiting the growing masses with smartphones to act as individual information aggregators and disseminators. If the government or state governments can come up with measures to collate information on social media, through data mining techniques or with the consent of the media channel, they could use this information to get a better idea of the state of affairs. Further people with smart phones could also be used for dissemination of vital information such as common meet-up points, contact information and information on safety. Other technological advances which can be of great use to us, is the easy availability of camera phones which, if connected with modern telecom systems, can provide doctors an instant chance to provide spot diagnostics for people injured or trapped at the scene of a disaster/terrorist event.
A lot depends on telecom dependability during and after such events. Telecom Carriers have still not conducted feasibility studies or sensitivity checks to determine the extent that operations will suffer during such events. It lies in the hands of the Govt. and telecom carriers to ensure suitable backups/ alternatives that can help Indian citizens counter such events better.