Haiti Earthquake Anniversary and my 2011 “Wish List”

January 12th is the one year anniversary of the horrific earthquake in Haiti. Unfortunately, things still seem to be in a downward spiral for the Haitians, as cholera and lynchings have spread through the rubble-filled streets in the after-math of the event. Disaster researchers and responders are aware of the effects of earthquakes on unreinforced masonry, as well as “cascading events” or “secondary events” that are caused by the original catastrophe. So where did we go wrong? Yes, this is a very complex situation, with politics and money playing their parts in the story, but over 222 THOUSAND dead? In this day and age? Call me a Pollyanna if you like, but something in the back of my mind is saying “This could have been a lot less severe”. We know too much. Think about it. During Hurricane Katrina the United States lost less than 2 thousand lives—which is nowhere near what Haiti lost.

Haiti’s  massive loss of  life stands in stark contrast to the incredible successes we have seen in other facets of human endeavor. I have been delighted throughout the week by techies in the blogosphere regaling us with tales of the new gadgets from the Consumer Electronics Show. Refrigerators than can tweet? A digital Polaroid camera? These are exciting and fun gadgets to think about, but they represent so much more than what they currently are. They represent what could be. If it is becoming economical to tweet from our refrigerators, then will technology and innovation make it economical to prevent such massive loss of life during earthquakes in Haiti (or elsewhere)?

I carry a tiny little computer around in my purse everyday that allows me check and respond to email, find the nearest and cheapest gas station, surf the web, take photos and upload them to social networking sites, and, oh yeah, make phone calls. Amongst all of this magical-seeming innovation I am supposed to believe that we couldn’t prevent such a massive humanitarian crisis? No. I refuse to believe that. Does it bother anyone else that we have 3-D television sets, but we can’t figure out how to prevent massive casualties from what was arguably a predictable event? We can do better than that citizens of planet Earth!

I propose that there needs to be more networking, more collaboration and more idea-sharing amongst disaster professionals and other scientists and technologists from around the world. If only we could light the blogosphere on fire with tales from our own disaster “Consumer Electronics Show” of sorts! Additionally, the Developed and the Under Developed must work hand in-hand to come up with some low-cost, life-saving mitigation and prevention measures.

To that end, I have compiled a rudimentary “Wish List” of conferences that I think would be fantastic events for fostering these types of ideas. Would that I could win the lottery in 2011 and attend them all! Since I am a geospatial disaster geek, I have included some meetings that are heavily Geographic Information Systems – based. While compiling a list of awesome-sounding conferences, I weeded out those that were invitation only, or that I didn’t think sounded compelling enough to shlep across the world for. Yes, this is a somewhat arbitrary list, shaped by my personal interests, but I also think each of them could be a great platform for innovation and collaboration. This is by no means a complete list. Just a place to start, really.

Which conferences are you going to?


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