Web 2.0 and disaster management

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There's been quite a lot of attention in the media recently about the role of Web 2.0 in disaster management. Spurred by the Mumbai attacks, Jeremiah Owyang, a specialist in web strategy and social media, wrote an interesting article on "How Municipalities Should Integrate Social Media Into Disaster Planning." (For a different but also fascinating take on what municipalities can achieve through the web, see "a city that thinks like the web").

And it's not just man-made disasters that are getting attention. Aftershock is a website entirely devoted to "the world’s first massively collaborative disaster simulation about a major earthquake affecting much of Southern California." Even if you don't live on the West Coast you can still chip in: "you can imagine your life outside of the region, and we’ll help you understand how the earthquake would affect you. A major earthquake in Southern California will disrupt normal patterns of life for millions of people in the U.S. and the world."

From virtual disasters in rich Southern California to all too real ones in the developing world. Last month, the New York Times spotlighted the work of NetHope, a non-profit based on a very Development 2.0 business model: major high-tech companies collaborating to fill the expertise gap of NGOs in the area of communications technologies. NetHope's Network Relief Kit brings a stable internet connection to even the most remote areas and was used in the 2004 tsunami relief effort. In another project, "aid agencies are collecting data on an agricultural problem bedeviling farmers growing the cassava plant in Africa. NetHope and one of its agencies developed an electronic data collection system to replace pencils and paper used on farms."

Distributed publishing, "massive collaboration", innovative business models: is Development 2.0 set to revolutionise disaster management?

Update: Here's another example of a "niche player" NGO partnering with an IT supplier to deliver flexible, innovative solutions to help out with natural disasters in Bolivia, Burma and Haiti.

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