msnbc.com
updated 9/8/2005 1:56:19 PM ET 2005-09-08T17:56:19

Tim Murphy is chief executive officer of Autonomechs, a North Carolina-based company that provides monitoring systems and communication systems for hazardous situations.

"We are all people who have been doing work on this information management side of disaster response," he told MSNBC.com.

The company's customers range from the U.S. Navy to the U.S. Open. In an e-mail to MSNBC.com, Murphy laid out his perspective on post-Katrina relief as well as links to other Web resources:

What I'm doing:
What I'm working on is being able to take information from people in the field who have immediate needs (insulin, rescue, etc.), as well as data from forward-deployed facilities (Red Cross, medical shelters) so that they can easily find each other, and people in the field can help themselves without counting on external help.  You would be surprised how many responses for help came in on the Web, since nobody knew who to call for help.  I had one posting about hundreds of people being trapped in a hotel.

Public groups that were trying to connect stranded victims with government response spent days looking for the person who would accept our growing victim list, showing who needed help, as well as what resources volunteer groups had to offer.  Fortunately, the Coast Guard came through.

Once the Coast Guard was authorized to accept our victims list, we were able to assist responders in the field with getting to victims.  This was one of the goals, but the immediate problem that we wanted to solve was the inability for people on the ground to communicate their critical needs, as well as the extra resources they could share, with one another.  This was the priority.  In the time that it took for our response groups to get in, many people on the ground were trying to save themselves, and we were doing everything we could to help them do it.

The tools that we've made have been opened up to all agencies, and is being kicked around by people at Red Cross and state emergency operations centers. It's tough to try to bring in a new tool like this with anyone who has bureaucracies to work against it. The bureaucracies of many response organizations simply do not allow for tools to be brought in by the community, and especially in the area of technology, new tools were created to help Katrina victims inside of 24 hours.  The resources of the Internet need to have someone within a response organization to accept them if they are to be utilized.  The technology is not the hard part. The hard part is finding someone in the federal area that knows what they are being offered, and has permission to use it.

What else the above got me into:
Comms: I have asked a satellite data company to provide 10 satellite terminals for 90-120 days so we could take them to Louisiana for helping to coordinate response between different government agencies.  This also allows us to bridge victims to online databases so they can tell people where they are, and find out where their family is.  The Internet is the best source of information for the people there, but they are cut off and can't get to it! We are forcing them to live in a black hole of communications when they need communications most.

Robotics: Mark Micire [of American Standard Robotics] was in Biloxi, Miss., volunteering his services and his company's robots for search and rescue.

Integration: I'm on the Katrina Dev list for the Katrina PeopleFinder Project, which is an open-source effort to try to catalog all of the different online repositories of missing/found people.  Red Cross has 4,000 entries in their missing/found database, and the local Gulf online newspaper has 30,000 last time I looked.  It's important that we can bridge all of these resources into one interface.

Other great sites:
KatrinaShelter.com:  Grassroots gathering of coders building a system for helping people find homes and shelters who lost theirs.

Katrina Information Map (Scipionus.com): Has a nice public interface where you can post any info you have about an area, and update other people's information or questions.

Gaps that need to be fixed:
Disaster response needs to be looked at like a system of cells, rather than counting on any one agency.  No matter how hard any one group works, there is a limit to the amount of effort that they can put in to something as widespread as this.  Instead of counting on one overarching body, we should supplement this by getting the Internet and communities involved by posting requests for help, and setting up a distributed set of authorities that can help get volunteers to people in need.

We need to have someone at every agency who is nothing but the Internet liaison agent, who is capable of understanding the online tools that are offered to them, as well as implementing them.

In North Carolina, hospital management at two facilities were able to e-mail me saying they had resources to share.  Two fire departments called saying they'd go where needed.  However, there is no way for people with such skills or resources to find out where they can contribute.  The fire departments didn't deploy as many troops as they could have, because they didn't know where to deploy and the hospital resources were never sent.  This is unacceptable.  A Web-based system showing where there was still need could have solved this.

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments