March 11, 2007

Twitter: A Tool to Prevent Katrina 2.0?

twitter logo

There is no disagreement that the disarray of emergency response preparedness for serving people with disabilities was exposed by Katrina. many conferences have followed that discuss improvements. Today I discovered a blog thread that proposes trying a simple solution in the non-emergency -- but fairly chaotic -- environment of a national conference.

While you can read this as it is intended - a look at disaster preparedness - I can't help wondering if the tool, Twitter, would not be useful for travelers:

From Deborah Elizabeth Finn's blog:

However, when my buddy Andy Carvin starts to speculate about the potential to use Twitter to save lives during emergencies, that commands my attention and respect. I continue to worry that folks in the field of nonprofit technology aren't doing enough advance preparation for disaster recovery.

Here's a sample scenario from Andy's blog article on using Twitter:

Well before any disaster, groups of first-responders would set up accounts on Twitter, then mark each other as friends. After that, they might remain dormant until a disaster happens, but then they'd fire up their mobile phones and start texting each other through Twitter's shortcode. Almost instantaneously, messages would get routed to everyone in the group, allowing them to keep in touch with each other even when other networks crash.

Of course, that's somewhat of a primitive communication model of doing business. Not everyone in a given group would literally need to receive every message, and sometimes you'd need to communicate with multiple groups simultaneously. We'd need to see some extra functionality added to the system for this to happen. For example, we'd benefit from the ability to route messages to specific groups of people and contextualize them with tags. For example, a volunteer Red Cross worker who also happens to be a member of an animal rescue league might need to be able to route their posts to specific groups of people. So if they have a text they only want to send out to their Red Cross colleagues, they would text the phrase "groups: redcross" before typing the rest of their message, getting it to that specific group. The same idea could be used to send messages to multiple groups ("groups: redcross, animalrescue") or to all of your groups ("groups: all").

Sounds good to me. As Andy points out, we could set it and forget it, until an emergency happens, and then it would simply be there, ready to use when other networks crash.


Posted by rollingrains at March 11, 2007 06:27 PM