Archive for February, 2010

Information Sharing in Disasters

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Author: William Doerr Davis, Director of Software Development, IEM

The crisis in Haiti is unfolding in a world that has never been more connected in terms of information, people, and emotion. The 2001 terrorist attacks, the 2004 tsunami, and 2005’s Hurricane Katrina showed us that the web can be a responsible source of information for billions of people all over the world. However, the information flow in response to the recent Haiti earthquakes is much different due to an expansion of web 2.0 platforms. When Katrina struck, Facebook had barely begun its explosive growth, Twitter had not yet been created, and not a single person carried the now ubiquitous iPhone. So despite having many web sources of information during those disasters, we still relied heavily upon the traditional news networks for information about what was happening.

Today, we see that information is flowing at a more rapid pace and from many more sources. As consumers of this information, we are able to follow up-to-the minute disaster reports through Twitter and Facebook —all from the convenience of a cell phone that is by our side 24/7. The application of these technologies in response to a disaster were considered futuristic a mere decade ago.

While Haiti has helped us realize how the flow of information can bring us unprecedented knowledge during a disaster, there is still much work to be done to better harness that knowledge to help communities respond and recover.  This is a key focus area for IEM’s technology teams. We are working on solutions that leverage the latest generation of web 2.0 technologies while also working to overcome one of the most basic challenges facing emergency managers in a disaster —how to share, consume, and act upon knowledge that can save people’s lives.

The technologies that enable this are improving each day and, with each disaster, organizations, communities, and public officials are learning how they can incorporate these tools into their processes.  One of the solutions IEM has developed is a collaboration platform called Cahooots (www.cahooots.com), which is built upon an open source framework and uses the power of social networking to help emergency managers, and even individual citizens, share information related to a disaster. In contrast to Twitter and Facebook, Cahooots allows anyone to post information to a map, so that a “picture” of a particular set of information can develop. Other technology companies have also taken up similar challenges, and we welcome the opportunity to work collectively with the entire web community to translate information sharing into lives saved and communities rebuilt.

If even one life can be saved by a piece of information, the technology will be a success.

Padma Shri Awarded to Dr. Arvind Kumar

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Author: Dr. Neeraj Mainkar, Computational Physicist, IEM

IEM computational physicist Dr. Neeraj Mainkar penned the following letter to his father, Dr. Arvind Kumar, who was recently awarded a Padma Shri, one of India’s highest awards.  Dr. Kumar was honored for his many years of work in science education for the underprivileged population in rural India.

A letter from a proud son

Dear Dada:

I have no words to describe to you how happy I am today. In the normal course of life, parents often get several opportunities to express pride for their children but today I feel like I have been blessed with a rare opportunity that only a few lucky people get – for a son to openly express heartfelt and genuine pride for his father.

I know you have never been one to indulge in sentimentality but I would ask you today to please let me take this chance to express to you my emotions about this amazingly great news about your PadmaShri Award.

Physics Professor Arvind Kumar, 2010 recipient of Padma Shri

Father and son with family in 1980. From far left: Physics Professor Arvind Kumar, 2010 recipient of Padma Shri; IEMer Neeraj Mainkar; Neeraj’s grandmother, Neeraj’s sister, and Neeraj’s mother

Dada, all my life growing up, you have always been the best teacher I have ever had. I always tell people even today that I learned nothing from my school or college teachers as much as I learned physics from you and you alone. I remember the days even up to my M.Sc. in physics when you would painstakingly sit with me for hours on end on weekends and weeknights working through all the difficult and intricate concepts of quantum mechanics and electrodynamics and ALL other topics in physics. Even after I came to the US, I unabashedly relied on your guidance in so many physics problems. Of course, in doing so, you set a standard in regard to the pursuit of physics that was almost impossibly high for me to even imagine reaching. I was in awe of you, I admired you and your uncompromisingly honest approach to truly and fundamentally understanding the essence of physics. What is more, I know it’s not just me that would feel this way about you just because I am your son but those countless students that you inspired, guided and worked so diligently for. I still occasionally run into so many of your students who mention to me how instrumental you were in developing their love for physics. For me you were the all-knowing physicist that happened to be my father. Even today when I think of you, I am reminded of the lines from Oliver Goldsmith’s poem “The Village SchoolMaster” that we learnt in school:

“…And still they gaz’d and still the wonder grew, That one small head could carry all he knew!..”

That is how I feel even today.

But I want you to know how even more proud I am of the values you have lived by all your life as well. In today’s world where money, material possessions, bank accounts, and exclusive club memberships have become the currency by which everyone judges a person’s worth, you are to me one of the few remaining individuals in this world that have lived their lives never pursuing such things, always living modestly and purely on the wealth of knowledge and your dedication to others. Your work on the underprivileged and disadvantaged children of rural India, your efforts and success at revamping the Science and Math Olympiad and bringing India glory through her performance at these competitions will always be things for which myself and thousands of people will be grateful to you for. And for this, I am so incredibly proud to be your son.

Dada, to me this Padmashri Award is nothing but a national recognition of something I have already known and experienced all my life. It is just so wonderful to see that our country finally took notice as well.

With lots of love and affection.

Neeraj