Japan and Katrina Call for Better Search-Survival Systems

Ideas and Issues

Japan search and rescueNew Orleans It is heartbreaking to read everywhere about families looking for relatives and friends in northern Japan.  An organizer in our office tells about her mother, a native of an area south of Tokyo, who is distraught trying to locate sisters and cousins who might have been working or travelling in the area.  It is still impossible to communicate to Japan where cell phones are ubiquitous, but service is still out throughout the north and many other parts of the country.   Written reports from the area indicate only the few pay phones that still remain as part of the land line system are operating with correspondingly long lines.  All of this is only too reminiscent of Katrina, but perhaps to an even more severe degree.

The effort and resources really need to be invested in protection and prevention, and that’s the first priority, but I can’t help thinking that in our high tech world we could do better on the rescue and recovery as well.

One post-Katrina project we never could get funded and done in New Orleans was digitalizing everyone’s critical records:  birth certifications, social security numbers, home ownership records, insurance policies, graduation certificates, drivers’ licenses, passports, and the like.   When you read that houses were swept away and flooded, losing everything, it is impossible to fully understand how comprehensive “everything” really is.    Not only individual homes but public facilities are equally damaged, and survivors are literally forced to “start over” in every imaginable way.  I still dream of getting Google or someone to help get that job done for everyone in New Orleans, but now it seems that the same project should exist in Japan and so many other places as well to smooth the transition from crises to normalcy and stability.

Scientists track fish, wolves, bears, birds, and all manner of other species with electronic tags all over the world in phenomenally difficult environments.  They can follow them.  They can find them.  They can identify them.

Privacy concerns are crucial.  So perhaps a system would have to have an “opt out” provision for those who don’t want anyone anywhere to know where and what we might be up to, though cell phones (when the cell towers are up) and credit cards as all of us know from any crime show on TV are virtual dog collars already.    What do I know about the technology, so I may be talking trash here, but for those who want and are willing to have an emergency backup, search and survival system, why couldn’t we have (wear or whatever) something that would emit a signal when it counted.

Nothing could or should stop someone who was committed to being off the grid, but watching the footage of 100,000 Japanese soldiers searching for survivors in rubble and lines of weeping families pouring through pages of paper to see if relatives are alive or dead, makes me believe that someone,  somewhere, somehow has to have a better system for those of us who want to save lives or be saved in the future.