January 5, 2005

Cell phones, Net could have saved thousands from waves

In a sickening way, the horrific death toll from the tsunamis last week was an information disaster, writes Kevin Manley for USA Today

"This is not about the well-documented lack of a tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean. This is about a failure to use the wonders of communication in place right now.

Why didn't warnings race around the Web ahead of the tsunami? We live at a time when news of Scott Peterson's guilty verdict can spread in minutes from cell phone text messages sent from inside the courtroom to millions of people across the planet. Yet no one took advantage of the Web as the tsunami dashed toward shorelines.

"An effective viral campaign could've been launched in minutes," says Toronto-based tech author Don Tapscott.

Why didn't thousands of tourists' cell phones chirp with a call or text message saying, "Run away!"? Why didn't BlackBerrys buzz with e-mail? Why didn't TV sets at resorts show CNN reporting where the waves might hit next?

Tens of thousands died because they didn't know what was coming. That's an information breakdown, not an act of nature.

"It's so ironic that in the age of information and of excess information and over-connectivity we have this monumental disaster caused by lack of information," says science author George Dyson."

So painfully true, but it's pointless thinking. Today, 10 days after this terrible trajedy, the "if onlies" can't change anything. The best that can be hoped for is a system put in place so that this never happens again.


-- Thailand sacks chief meteorologist Thailand has fired its chief meteorologist and opened an investigation into why his department failed to issue a tsunami warning last month which might have saved thousands of lives. According to an unnamed member of the department, "a tsunami alert was not issued for fear of hurting the important tourist industry at the peak season if it turned out to be false".

-- Links to all Tsunami/cell phone stories posted in Textually.org.

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