Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Advance in Collective Technology Provides Hope in Wake of Tsunami

American Street:
Advance in Collective Technology Provides Hope in Wake of Tsunami

by Jude Nagurney Camwell

The most recent advances in collective technology have come about out of necessity, and those who have lent their time and effort deserve much credit for their respective contributions.

Cell phones with text messaging can be much more effectively utilized during emergencies. Text messaging is also called SMS - (Short Message Service) - a feature available with some wireless phones that allow users to send and/or receive short alphanumeric messages. The recent tsunami has proven the need for this improvement in communications technology.

Taran Rampersad, a former Hospital Corpsman in the United States Navy, is showing how SMS systems can be put to more practical use. His favorite phrase is taken from the great artist Michaelangelo: “Criticize by creating.” When Taran imagines, he puts that imagination into practical and helpful use to the world. At his website,, he explains that the Alert Retrieval Cache system (further discussed below) is meant to recieve messages from people on the ground in the affected areas and use human moderators to take actions based on the content of the messages recieved.

Taran was a recent guest on BBC News where he discussed his latest ideas, of great public interest in the aftermath of the tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia. LISTEN TO THE BBC SEGMENT HERE. Taran has quickly understood the need to centralize text messages and redistribute them in such a way that relief can be best brought to those who need it most.

The fact that people like Taran and Dan Lane of Great Britain, known as “SMS guru” , have caught the attention of a non-techie like me is no accident or odd coincidence. I have found them through common pathways on the internet. My expressive desire to see a change in the world has met with those who have created the means to make that dream come true, in small, realistic steps. Too often, the genius behind cutting-edge technology goes unnoticed, not properly credited, and/or misunderstood.

Dan Lane helped to create the ARC system (Alert Retrieval Cache), in less than 24 hours after the onset of the tsunami indicated a monster of a crisis. It was mentioned in a recent Boing Boing blog entry:
One approach to a solution, created in the span of about 24 hours by an impromtu volunteer geek corps -- A tech system called Alert Retrieval Cache (ARC) (, which collects, sorts, and routes SMS messages for the puposes of alerts and relay communication. An early warning system based on SMS, short message service.

The ARC Team is:

Dan Lane - Technical Architect and SMS Specialist
GV - ARC Developer
Rohit Gupta - Original Concept
Taran Rampersad - Project Coordinator

The following is just one small example of how SMS technology is shining through. At Malaysia’s Star Publications, there is currently an SMS hope/charity-based campaign (which will run through January 14) called “From The Heart” which utilizes SMS technology for the dual purpose of lifting victims’ spirits and providing financial relief.
“Hope all victims can overcome the problems they’re facing now, and know that there is always new hope ahead, it’s just the matter of time. Frm LKY”, read one message that was received for the campaign, which is organised by DiGi Telecommunications, The Star and ntv7. Some 225 messages were sent in yesterday, with most of them encouraging those affected by the disaster to continue to look for the silver lining in the midst of their suffering. “BE STRONG. LOOK AT THE BRIGHT SIDE. THERE’S ALWAYS S/THING TO LEARN,” wrote VEROLISA, while a message from KUMARAN read: “May GOD bless you. There is a future waiting for you.”
The Blogging World Responds to the Challenge

This new technology carries naturally over to the blogging world, and is becoming an extension of the old "tribal word-of-mouth" method of social networking.

The Asia Times recently published an article by James Borton, which describes, in detail, the effectiveness of blogs as independent media at a time when marginalized peoples are facing the aftermath of a great disaster.

Borton credits open source journalism, including humanitarian "smart-mobs", who are bringing troubled populations just one click away from the assistance they require. Although far from perfect, there is early proof that the concept will be an elemental part of the future of world communication.

In the article titled Tsunami bloggers in tribal news network, James Borton writes: [an independent news organization launched in 1999, offering daily news, opinions, editorials, etc. Since its launch, the website has become the leading source of independent news and views on Malaysia.. ] and bloggers as independent media are providing effective forums for marginalized people in Asia at a time when ordinary lives have been devastated by this natural disaster in which each tide washes ashore more victims. This band of online tribalists brings together a deeper appreciation of shared humanity and continues to open the flow of vital news arteries.

"[....] It is a marvelous demonstration of the collective intelligence of humanitarian smart mobs," blogger Rohit Gupta from the website said in an Asia Times Online interview from Bombay. According to Gupta, Sri Lankan bloggers Morquendi [Sanjay Senanayake] and LastNode are building a Short Message Service (SMS) news and alert service, where they are recruiting more citizen reporters at"

[...]Blogger Nick Lewis [also Founder and Chief Administrator of The Progressive Blog Alliance and One World] has established a website called Emergency Action Blog, which provides some exemplary action steps, updates on tsunami information, collected personal stories and links to aid-relief sites.

Other bloggers, such as Jon Lebkowsky , are even more committed to discussions on what went wrong since the world knows all too painfully that there was no available tsunami detection information in the Indian Ocean and apparently no one at the warning center had the telephone numbers of their neighboring scientists in Indonesia, Malaysia and eastern India.

[...]"We are truly witnessing the tribal word-of-mouth network return as a dominant medium in a heavily connected world. Blogs are a natural extension of that," added Malaysian blogger Jack Tuan from Penang, an area also hit by the killer tsunami…"

[...]Bloggers such as Malaysian Jeff Ooi and Nanda Kishore, a contributor to from Chennai, India, along with scores of others at, are sentries on the digital frontline, examining the impact of the regional tsunami that spilled over parts of South and Southeast Asian on December 26.

[...]"It's nice to see lots of learning on social software over the last two years implemented here; linking blog to wiki and wiki to blog, working with the limitations of using Blogger (though Google has been so so kind and offered us unlimited bandwidth), using blogrolling to enable links to wiki pages, putting up a Flickr Zeitgest on missing persons. We still need a button/logo. We still need cross-referencing between blog posts and wiki pages. We still need easy migration of data from blog to wiki ... We're now considering transitioning to another platform that enables easy integration between blogs and wikis ... prototyping some ideas at this point ... let's see how that emerges," [Dina] Mehta said."

Proof of success can be found in the words of families around the world in this one example, seen at the Tsunami Help Workspace. In a message from the SEA-EAT-Volunteers list:
Two more individuals, Lori Gustafson from London and Lindsay Francis from Seattle are fine and doing well.. their families have this to say to us:

"Thank you so much for your information. It is so nice to know there are so many people in the world who are still caring enough to take their time to respond to our request. We managed to conatct Lori and she is doing well. We wish you a Very Happy New Year."
Margaret Eastman (Lori's Mother)

"Thank you for your kind words. Lisa has be confirmed as safe. Please do convey my deepest regards and good wishes to all those who are putting so much time and effort to maintain this mammoth of task. We are all so happy to know that such amazing people live in this world too."
Lindsay's sister

I’d like to extend a personal thanks to the people, many with day jobs, who lose so much sleep; who work non-stop (losing all track of time); who devote so much of their personal lives and caring intelligence to alleviating the suffering of their fellow men and women. Let it go on the record that their efforts are very much appreciated. The future is dependent upon global people-to-people communications, and the efforts of these men and women to provide a technological venue to facilitate this communication is the stuff of which history books will be someday be comprised.