By Ian Roxborough
The message from three distinguished speakers from the U.S. Government was “the people are the solution.” The 8th annual Tides Tech Demo at Fort McNair hosted a panel featuring Ms. Heather King, Director for Preparedness Policy at the White House National Security Council, Jim Craft, CIO of the Joint IED Defeat Organization, and the Hon. Dennis McGinn, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations and Environment. Each talked about ways in which the government could help stimulate technological innovation and preparedness for disasters.
Assistant Secretary McGinn pointed out that there are already people on the ground before the first responders arrive; the issue is whether they are part of the solution or simply victims. The panelists agreed that the best way for government to help the immediate responders – the people experiencing the disaster – was for everyone to take responsibility for building resilience at both the community and the national level. Preparing now for local hazards, building up the right kind of databases, beginning exercises and finding ways to link everyone together was the message. Obvious in principle, but not so easy to do in practice.
Heather King talked about what the government was doing right now to build the right kind of knowledge base and prepare for disasters. She talked about how the government sponsors White House Innovation Fellows; how it supports various ways of sharing innovations: data jams, datapaloozas, and demo days; and how the government is getter better at consistent messaging on preparedness issues.
Along similar lines, one way that TIDES and the Center for Technology and National Security Policy are helping is to promote challenges. Small rewards bring forth large numbers of smart innovators. This year CTNSP challenged the tech community to come up with solutions to problems facing people on the ground. The winners included an app to help people find their local disaster assistance office and help them complete the forms that have to be filled out after every disaster. Another was an app so that people could report flooding. A third was an app to help citizens report the location of storm shelters. Small contributions perhaps, but they add up to ways that ordinary people can play an active role in disaster management: they are empowered to be part of the solution.
Moreover, as Jim Craft said, innovation is not simply about technology, it’s about creative human endeavor. Sometimes it’s about remembering old stuff and adapting old solutions to new problems. We have a bad habit of forgetting how we did things in the past: we need to rediscover the unknown knowns.
Preparedness requires releasing people’s creativity. We need to figure out ways to make that happen. We have gotten some things right already: tech challenges are one part of that. What else do we need to do?