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cbrandtbuffalo (4462)

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Perl programmer at the University at Buffalo.
Friday September 09, 2005
11:02 AM

New ways to help in a crisis

[ #26663 ]
This story about FEMA's website also noted on Slashdot shows how FEMA has made some bad decisions in yet another area. If you dig deeper, you'll find that the reason the system is IE only on Windows is that it was originally spec'd as an internal system only. When you have only PCs in your shop, this might seem to make sense.

But this was a poor decision. For a web-based application, there is seldom a good reason to lock it to a particular browser, whether you can or not.

This and over a week of watching helplessly as people's lives are torn apart by Katrina got me thinking. Is disaster preparedness another argument for the US government to use open standards and open source?

I really want to help in some way, but I'm not a doctor or a policeman or a fireman. But I am a tech guy. The web has become one of the big stories of this event, and one way I might be able to help is to beef up FEMA's serving capacity so everyone can get through. However, I can't do this if all their stuff is locked down and proprietary.

Imagine if all government agencies committed to an open standard and when something big happened, a bunch of tech people can jump in just like the National Guard. I could talk to the UB president and get us to donate our bandwidth and a couple of servers. I could donate my time to keep the servers running and troubleshoot. Open source already has a strong merit system to determine who has the qualifications to step in.

What do you think? Could systems every be developed in an open enough way to allow us tech folks to jump in on the virtual front lines of a disaster? Could we do it in a way that preserved the proper levels of security and privacy?

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  • Yes, it would be a nice thing to have and probably helpful, but it's a tiny thing in the grand scheme of things, I think. Of course we still don't know what went wrong, but I doubt that better technology would have been the answer to the problems.