One of richest pathways towards improving the level of community coordination in the event of disaster/disconnection, is through the use of community Web sites that provide actionable information (here's an example of how this worked in San Diego during the recent fires) and reverse 911 data-sharing. Unfortunately, community emergency Web sites as well as basic data services are extremely vulnerable to disconnection. What's needed are smart local networks.
Smart Local Networks
(a local Internet or community Intranet)
Most of the local loops (from telco fiber to cable company coaxial) currently in place and/or being installed in the US are dumb (I suspect it is the same globally). They simply route data from local customers to regionally clustered corporate server farms and then outwards/back. This means that any disconnection (physical or logical fault) between local customers and these remote systems will result in a complete cessation of service. To correct this deficiency, communities need to start to think more like a corporation: security of data services are considered central to a company's survival. So, as part of future negotiations with cable/telcos, communities should request that companies allow them to piggyback on their "dumb" networks to create a smart local loops. This would entail:
- A high availability local network for emergencies. A local emergency network that connects all homes and business in the area by accessing the local aggregation nodes of cable/telco operators (which is actually a relatively trivial/inexpensive network exercise). It should become the default network if access to the greater Internet fails. Optimally, the network should sit astride both cable and telco services to provide a seamless community "footprint."
- High availability servers (computers that host Web sites) in the local loop. Servers that are on the community network and located within the communities environs. Back-up power should be provided to ensure that these servers maintain high up time.
- (futures) Community coordination software to sit on these servers. Easy to use and edit social software: blogs, wikis, etc. If the market is large enough, there will be software packages (hopefully open source) that replicate the functionality of a fully functional emergency response system (i.e. locally cached Google maps, etc.). In terms of operating this software, most communities could ask schools/boy scouts/etc. to maintain the software, even during an emergency (young people are much more likely to have the skill sets to do this w/o specific training).