demonstrate just one way that the emergence and ongoing advance of collaborative tools could contribute to disaster management. The challenge for disaster managers is to leverage the power of these emergent uses of IT—and support research and development to advance their application to disaster management—without destroying their inherent flexibility and adaptability.
In addition to making better use of IT to help people, IT can be used to improve the survivability of critical infrastructure—another major factor in speeding recovery and restoring societal functions. The committee heard numerous possibilities for advancing IT and extending its applications to improve the resilience and management of critical infrastructure systems, such as the electric grid, water, transportation, housing, and health care. The interdependencies between these systems are often not well understood and rarely proactively engineered for resilience because they are usually designed and operated by independent entities over a long period of time. The structural couplings between these systems may also manifest themselves on a wide range of spatial and temporal scales, making it difficult to quantify them. Solving these problems requires different jurisdictions—cities, counties, states—to work closely with each other and with federal agencies. The restoration of New Orleans, for example, is widely understood to require a concerted rebuilding across government agencies, public safety organizations, businesses, and public utilities. Simply clearing damage, processing insurance claims and other compensation, and rebuilding residential, government, and commercial infrastructure constitute a very complex, multifaceted process that is likely to take years to complete.
Advances in IT can revolutionize other technical disciplines with direct and indirect implications for advances in disaster management. A salient example is the entirely new class of monitoring and control capabilities made available to civil and mechanical engineers by the creation of small sensors, microprocessors and wireless communication devices. Many applications require the deployment and use of sensors on a wide scale—capabilities that are starting to emerge from research into distributed sensor networks.
When terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York in September 2001, thousands of occupants of those doomed structures had an hour to escape. But delays in the assessment of the structures’ integrity stole crucial minutes from the evacuation and ultimately doomed thousands of innocent civilians. Today it is possible to instrument such structures using sensors and wireless connections, in such a way that the changing forces within the towers’ structures could be recognized and evaluated almost instantly.