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    Disaster relief and distribution

    Interestingly, if predictably, the major problem that’s being reported with getting aid to victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami involves distribution. Part of that is no one’s fault: while they’re obliterating villages, earthquakes and tidal waves aren’t gallant enough to leave passable roads and runways behind for the survivors after all.

    At the same time, it’s not just the physical infrastructure for the transportation of goods that’s a problem. It’s also information coordination, though even tenuously-unified countries such as Indonesia and Sri Lanka seem to be making amazing efforts. Developed countries would clearly have the infrastructure to do a lot better, but this sort of issue is not unknown to us, either. It affected the Kobe earthquake and Hurricane Andrew relief efforts. And even in business, which has time for the trial-and-error development of information management systems without thousands of dehydrating people to worry about, ruthlessly efficient distribution models of the WalMart style are…well, only as old as WalMart.

    I only wonder aloud about this because the talk has now, naturally, turned from how we could have warned people to how we could be getting supplies where they’re needed more quickly. There are clearly improvements that could be made, but there’s a huge amount of information to process on the fly, and much of it to be shared among groups that, shall we say, are not used to cooperating. Attention needs to be focused on helping people in exigent circumstances right now, but it will be interesting to see what we eventually learn that helps make our responses more resilient in the future.

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