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Saving Lives Using the XO Laptop

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[First published as Saving Lives Using the XO Laptop on November 21, 2007.]

I once — as I expect most people still do — thought of the XO Laptop as just a cute little box that will mainly be used to provide education in classrooms and communities around the world.

Yes, that is true, but I now believe the XO Laptop will find many other uses that many people — including the people who designed and are building the XO laptop — have not yet fully appreciated.

For example, I know that the XO Laptop will be used to save lives, and probably lots of lives, in the near future. Moreover, you will see those lives being saved as you watch TV in the comfort of your living room.

Here’s why.

If you want to take the long route, read these two posts that I wrote over a year ago:

To fully understand why I write this post you would need to read through all the cited publications, as I once did. But to save you the trouble doing that, here are the important points

Sahana is the first open-source application created in the area of disaster and crisis management that has achieved wide user. Sahana was created the aftermath of the devastating Asian Tsunami of December 2004.

The reason I am writing this blog is because my day job is to help manage IBM’s open-source activities, and two just about two years some folks from IBM’s Corporate Citizenship and Community Relations group (CCCR) came to me and asked for help on how to encourage IBM volunteers to work on Sahana.

I did some work related to Sahana, but after recruiting Rob Eggers, who then built a small team of IBM volunteers to work on Sahana, I moved my volunteer efforts over to education just over a year ago, and began my days as an active blogger. (All the work you see here is done on my own time and on my own dime, as a volunteer.)

An IBM team is present at the scene of every major disaster. IBM is a global company, so we have clients everywhere. We have been among the first to arrive at the scene of a major disaster for years. We go there to take care of our clients, and also to lend whatever help we can.

As part of that effort, IBM has been involved in deploying Sahana in the aftermath of a number disasters, including the mudslides in the Phillipines. See Filipino Quote Immortalized in Int’l Journal, which contains the quote:

Avelino J. Cruz Jr., Secretary of National Defense in the Philippines: “There is no greater innovation that matters more than that which saves lives.”

I completely agree. Who wouldn’t?

The second cited post gives a number of references. Here is an excerpt from one of them Information and Technology Requirements Assessment: Key Findings (PDF).

Here is an excerpt from the first page of that report (emphasis added):


Information and Technology Requirements Assessment: Key Findings

Net Hope: Wiring the Global Village

Disaster Relief

A compendium of learnings from engagements in Afghanistan, Iraq, Liberia, Iran, Sudan, Guatemala, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Lebanon

Dipak Basu
September 26, 2006

1. Scope

This document attempts to extrace the do’s and dont’s from the NetHope consortium’s experience in addressing information and communication technology (ICT) deployment for its members during eight major disasters in ten countries during its five years of existence.

This document summarizes these learnings into a set of guidelines for the benefit of NetHope member agencies and for the relief community as a whole.

2. Stages of a Disaster:

Stage 1 – Within hours of disaster striking. First relief worker(s) arrive on the ground. Urgent and immediate need in hostile environment is to survey and assess damage, transmit pictures, security information, relief materiel and personnel requirements to Head Offices. Agencies decide at this stage how deeply involved they will be with their relief efforts. Example: CRS in sectarian fighting in eastern Congo.

This stage is characterized by highly individualized, highly mobile, temporary and transient computing, communication and power solutions.

Stage 2 – Within two weeks of a disaster striking. Teams begin to arrive on the scene as risk of disease and malnutrition escalates. Requirements are continuous monitoring of disaster, assessment of victim needs, management of relief material deployment between and across aid agencies, personnel security, application and reporting of donated funds, uploading of case studies, pictures, and relief reports. Example: Relief International in the Iran earthuake in Bam.

This stage is characterized by small (up to 10 people), often roving groups who need easy-to-setup-and-takedown computing, communication and power solutions.

Stage 3 – From one month following a disaster striking to multi-year. Agencies provide resources for building reconstruction, counseling, family reunification, food distribution, water purification, etc. thus becoming part of the community over a long period of time. Example: Actionaid in tsunami relief in southern India.

This stage is characterized by larger (20 or more people) groups in fixed office scenarios, with the potential of moving to different office locations as the situation unfolds.


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Written by daveshields

December 12, 2007 at 5:26 am

Posted in xo-laptop

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