Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Cloudburst Mumbai

Cloudburst Mumbai offers current information on the Mumbai/Bombay flooding.
Plus, this entry is my first blog-to-blog link-- but in theory a blog with actual content.


Costs of disaster management failure

Heard this one on NPR as well. Indian corporations are disappointed in the failure of disaster management in Bombay/Mumbai. When a city doesn't do enough-- or when the business community thinks they haven't done enough-- to prevent or mitigate a , it can have long-term consequences to the city's reputation.
On the other hand, I'd expect disaster preparedness professionals, and would-be ones like me, to try to blow this story out of proportion, so watch for that.


Agent-based disaster management

Penn State's Dr. John Yen and the other folks at the Laboratory for Intelligent Agents have come up with an interesting concept: using intelligent agents to improve team communication for high-pressure situations. The R-CAST system is designed to eliminate bottlenecks in information flow, according to the press release.
It's inspired by recognition-primed decision making (aka RPD), which at first glance looks interesting. RPD a way of modeling how people react to situations under stress. Basically, RPD figures that people try to fit the current situation into previously-experienced prototype situations by feature matching. If any anomalies come up, they try to fit it into another one.
It matches some of my observations of the mistakes we make under pressure: we inappropriately discard anomalies. The hardest part in the early stages of a is recognizing the shape of a situation. People have a limited set of previous experiences that they can use for comparison. Since disasters are, pretty much by definition, exceptional events, we're not very good at recognizing them in the very early stages-- the times when intervention can do the most good.

Friday, December 31, 2004


Tsunami: A Look At Early Detection

Here's an article (NYT) which goes into great detail about scientists who had early information about the quake, and their attempts to use it or to contact others with it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004


Anatomy of a Disaster

The December 26th, 2004 quake, and the tsunami that soon followed, killed 60,000 people at today's count.

In this journal I hope to record my thoughts on how to analyze disasters and disaster response. This log won't be very personal, and will be fairly dry and factual in tone. It's a serious subject. (Although I may review the occasional disaster movie.)

Most coverage of disasters focuses on body counts and blame, with occasional human interest stories to bring things into perspective. These aspects are very important, but not what I want to look at.

It's seemed to me that there are places for mitigation in any disaster scenario, starting long before the actual event occurs, and ending long afterward. Here are a few points:

  1. Risk identification-- did the authorities (or other people in a position to be effective) realize the possibility of this event? Did they correctly estimate its likelihood of happening, and its potential magnitude?
  2. Preparation-- did authorities have workable plans in place? Were people trained in executing them?
  3. Event recognition-- how quickly after the beginning of the disaster did someone realize what was happening? How soon did that information get to people who could do something about it?
  4. Immediate response-- how quickly did the authorities take action to reduce how much harm would take place? How coordinated was the response?
  5. Secondary response-- did authorities take action against problems stemming from the initial damage? For example, in the tsunami, we expect to lose an additional 60,000 lives from disease, water contamination, and malnutrition.
  6. Long-term rebuilding-- how well did authorities address psychological, environmental, and economic problems?
  7. Improvement-- Did authorities learn from their mistakes?
I'll analyze how well the local governments and international community do as news comes in. In the meantime, someone's already started a blog specifically about the tsunami, which gives addresses and instructions on how to help.

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