Friday, January 19, 2007

Inadequate use of technology costs lives

With great sadness, I just read a news headline Report: Frequent Confusion in Kim Case. James Kim was the man who died of exposure while hiking out to save his family. I don't know if a better search operation would have changed the outcome. However, the "what if?" must be agony for his family.

Unfortunately it reminds me of the reports I read about the rescue operations for Katrina. Lack of communication, lack of coordination, and lack of appropriate use of technology cost lives. We have the greatest software and networking companies in the world. We spend billions of dollars on the "war to fight terrorism." Our phone records can be tapped without our knowledge and consent? How about spending some money on producing systems that work for saving people from natural disaster? How about a system that tracks cell phone records for folks that are reported missing?

"Two Edge Wireless engineers acting on a hunch sifted cell phone records and found a text message for the Kims that had bounced off a cell phone tower near Glendale and had been received somewhere to the west of the tower. They notified authorities the night of Dec. 2, which focused the search."

Before this was done the authorities had a search area of 300 miles to search. I don't understand why a cell phone search wasn't part of standard search and rescue procedure. I also don't understand why this records search took so long when the family was reported missing on November 29. I can search all the calls I've received or placed in a matter of moments. But then it's not a manual process.

It's just incredibly ironic to me that a man who advocated the latest and greatest portable technology may have died because people didn't use technology appropriately.

The government didn't even rescue the Kims stranded in the car. A helicopter hired by the extended Kim family acted on a hunch. The Kims were lucky and wealthy. I applaud the Kims for using all the resources they had, but one's ability to be rescued shouldn't depend on wealth. It's shameful in the richest country in the world.

I don't actually blame the sherrifs involved. I myself have worked on disaster recovery, albeit for computer systems. I know that in crisises people rely on procedures; procedures they've already rehearsed. It's hard for people to think clearly. The procedures must involve using technology and coordination in ways that work. Otherwise many people get confused under intense pressure. And if this occurs rescuing computer systems, I can imagine how much more confused people get trying to rescue people. Much more pressure and also emotion.

I'm still very sad that James Kim died. And getting a better search and rescue effort for Oregon after the fact is probably little consolation to Kim's family. However, I'm glad that a relatively wealthy and well known individual was involved to give the state a wake up call.

Unfortunately I still feel that a failure in other states could still happen, because most of the individuals involved in Katrina were poor and uneducated. We really need national procedures to deal with disasters.

I read many many articles and blogs that blamed the victims of Katrina and individual officials. "They should have left when they heard the warnings." Well, if you don't have car, or enough gas to get out far enough, you'te stuck waiting for the government. Confusion also reigned and inadequate resources were deployed too late. It meant that pets or people in hospitals couldn't be transported. People had to choose to leave loved ones behind. Some people chose to stay. James Kim chose to leave to find help. It's easy to second guess after the fact. Katrina victims should have left. Kim should have stayed. But the right answer at the time wasn't clear. And these folks should never have had to face these terrible choices.

Another report states "The US is unprepared for another disaster." I don't know if terrorists will strike our airports or airplanes. I do know that people will get lost, and more major hurricanes will strike. I wish our country had good plans to rescue our own before we try to rescue other countries like Iraq.

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