Storm over Europe
The answer: insights that are all too relevant for ourselves. Storm Xaver has shown how brittle our critical infrastructure systems are. Travelling into Amsterdam last night, I found myself stranded at the airport, sitting between “Ako Nieuws & Media" and “Dutch & Delicious” shops and trying to figure out where to go. Train service had stopped three hours before, people were waiting on cold platforms amidst suitcases and backpacks with a cellphone in their hands, trying to get connection to the internet or calling to find out more about the situation.
The only communication that seems to work is peer to peer: calling relatives to organize pick up services at the airport, having a friend search the web, or going to the one open counter of the Dutch railway, where a friendly lady in blue tries mostly to calm the travellers down. This peer to peer communication works, since the information provided addresses the specific problems and needs of those who request it. But is highly inefficient. It blocks bandwidth; I can only access the internet sporadically, and many of my calls drop. It is redundant, since the same questions need to be answered over and over again. And it privileges those with access to local knowledge and contacts.
Interestingly, I have discussed the same issues with MapAction and GeorgeMcGuire, who also provided the map above, as a part of a series of maps that would be required to facilitate logistcs planning.
The challenge for us, working on decision support tools and information systems is how to maintain the advantages of tailored information while providing information for very different contexts and users. How do we avoid overloading them with thousands of maps, redundant or irrelevant information? How do we ensure that the content is understood by providing it in the right language and format?
In essence, this will require an approach that is transparent and accessible to all and enables filtering and ad-hoc processing of information in near real-time - customization of mass communication.