Modern technology—especially the Internet—has been usually of great help in times of natural disasters like floods or hurricane. The Internet enables the bad news to filter out quickly and keeps the rest of the world informed about how things pan out, as well as speeding up the relief efforts. But sometimes we have to admit, people become too gung-hoish in dreaming up uses for the Internet in situations involving natural disasters.
Consider this idea—a collaborative map of a particular area hit by some disaster like flood or earthquake. On the face of it, the idea seems feasible and lifesaving. After all , what can go wrong if you have an online map hosted on a remote server which would show, in real time the locations of bridges that were washed away 30 minutes ago, roads flooded by a mudslide 5 minutes ago or maybe buildings that have toppled over. Knowing all those details would be definitely helpful when you rushing to save your life, or save others lives. And it is doable too: users would just have to drag red markers on the screen and maybe type a small description. Crowdsourcing at it’s best and the end to all those helicopter sorties where rescuers squint from binoculars looking for white flags and what not.
Not so fast there. What this system assumes is that everyone in a potential disaster zone would have Internet connection and a mobile device small and light enough to carry around and people would somehow magically stop and type instead of saving themselves and their valued possessions. The reality is a lot different. First of all, even in the most advanced countries wireless internet access works in the best of circumstances. To expect people to remain online when they are faced with matters of life and death and also when basic infrastructure facilities have been wiped out seems unrealistic.
The folks at sites like GeoCommons and Mapufacture where these maps are hosted and available freely to everybody affirm that maps help in the event of, and not during a particular disaster. However even then, with basic infrastructure utilities like electricity down how effective this system will be across different locations remains doubtful. Even the people behind these services admit that their services don’t work as well in the real world as they do in controlled environments.
For India, things would not change for a very long time, no sir. We would be happy if in the event of we getting caught in a flood or a cyclone somebody gets food and shelter for us. We can check our e-mails later.