In response to the horrific events that have hit home in the past decade—including Sept. 11, the Virginia Tech shootings, and numerous floods, tornados, and fires—communities across the nation have turned to technology to prepare for future disasters. These tragedies reinforce the fact that, as a country, we must work together to improve access to information during critical times.
Yet, even the most advanced technology won’t help if people don’t know how it works. Take the five climbers who were caught in a snowstorm and rescued from Mt. Hood in 2007. According to the Associated Press, the men carried all the right gear (a compass, maps, an altimeter, and a mountain locator unit), but not all of them knew how to use that gear. Adding to the confusion, the men were unfamiliar with the mountain’s geography.
Like the Mt. Hood climbers, many of us need a disaster to alert us to the resources and geographic features in our own communities. Fortunately, a number of programs are working to equip citizens with this knowledge before disaster strikes.
The 4-H Alert, Evacuate, and Shelter curriculum aids youth, their families, and their adult leaders to use geospatial technology to create evacuation and shelter maps. The curriculum was developed by 4-H youth and adults, emergency management professionals, and community leaders from the 120 coastal counties in the southeastern states most at risk to hurricanes. The program illustrates how young people are drawing on their leadership and technology skills to keep at-risk communities safe.
While the AES curriculum promotes the use of GIS and GPS, today’s social networking tools can also help citizens cope with disasters. Following the Virginia Tech shootings, many students formed Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube groups to let loved ones know they were safe, to report the tragic events, or to share their condolences. Residents of the virtual world Second Life even created a memorial to the Virginia Tech victims where visitors can leave virtual flowers and notes.
Social networking sites and virtual worlds aside, using technology to prepare for emergencies can be as basic as keeping your cell phone charged to make free 911 calls and using an “ICE” (in case of emergency) number. There are several CYFERnet resources that will help you to integrate technology in your emergency planning as well. Just search under “emergency” in the CYFERnet database to find a wealth of relevant info.