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Technologies for Improved Disaster Response: The Case for Law, Radios andCollaboration in Costa RicaAndrea TapiaAssociate Professor of Information Sciences and Technology at Penn State
A Fulbright in San Jose, Costa Rica
My family and I lived in Costa Rica, located in Central America. We lived in the capital city, San Jose. December 2011 through July 2012.
Population 2011 census- 4,301,712Costa Rica is the only Latin American country included in the list of the world's 22 older democracies.Costa Rica constitutionally abolished its army permanently in 1949.The New Economics Foundation (NEF) ranked Costa Rica first in its 2009 Happy Planet Index, and 2012. The NEF also ranked Costa Rica in 2009 as the "greenest" country in the world.The literacy rate in Costa Rica is 94.9%, one of the highest in Latin America.Costa Rica
In Costa Rica…10 US Fulbrighters, 3 Faculty, 2 English teachers and 5 undergrad/grad studentsFaculty are required to do half teaching/half research6 month limitRequired to pass a language proficiency examApplicants must find their own host institutionThe Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.
Research Big PictureWhy Costa Rica?
Technology for GOODI study information discovery, needs, use and sharing in humanitarian settings.I develop and study information analysis tools in humanitarian settings. I design and study information technology devices and services in humanitarian settings. I develop theories of humanitarian information management within and between development organizations.
Research Big Picture: I am a Public InformaticianI focus on problems faced by public and non-profit institutions and their work toward a public good. I focus on institutions that serve our most basic needs for post-disaster and emergency aid, safety and security, economic and social development, and telecommunications. I am attracted to problems that are endemic to the public sphere: the lack of and management of scarce resources, sharing materials and information and the need to play competitively alongside private industry.
The way we think about emergency preparedness and response has been changing in four ways. Nations and communities should refocus on risk management rather than only on disaster response. Resources and effort should be devoted to make communities more resilient with greater capacity to withstand disasters, rather than patching them up afterwards. If the multitude and diverse organizations who respond to disasters are ever going to truly coordinate there must be an external force, like a national government, which gently pushes the groups into functional relationships. Citizens should be directly involved in their own risk management, acting as citizen scientists. Technologies are playing a much larger role in both risk management and response.
My ResearchI take a top-down approach to improved disaster response rather than bottom up. I believe government plays a key role in survivability due to its role in building infrastructure, quality of life and organized response. The difference in survivability and impact between nations is not the strength of the disaster, but the socio-resilience of the nation.The goal of my project was to determine the effects of a national law to coordinate and to share information upon the emergency response sector.
Why Costa Rica?Costa Rica is experiencing all four of these changes simultaneously. It is a “perfect storm of change” Costa Rica has the unique position of being located in Latin America, a place known for recurrent disasters with heavy human cost, yet having the most stable government and economy of the region. This stability has also led to Costa Rica creating the most advanced disaster response plan in all Latin America.
RESEARCHI conducted 52 interviews with the leaders of the Costa Rican Risk and Disaster Management Network, including:The National Commission for Emergencies, The National Red Cross, National Social Service, National Health Service, the 911 dispatch center, fire response, National Volcanology and Seismic centers, USAID-LAC, the US Embassy. I also attending two National Convocations around Emergency Management.
LAW--compels organizational and informational coordination. In 2006 the Costa Rican National Commission for Risk Prevention and Emergency Response (CNE) created the National Emergency Law, an institutional national platform for disaster response. This law mandates that during times of disaster all involved responders must coordinate, communicate and share information. I LEARNED… LAW can make a difference.LAW--shifts the emphasis from disaster response to disaster prevention. In 2010 National Risk Management Plan, which refocused the country on risk awareness, management and capacity building.
I learned old and new technologies can seamlessly work togetherThe Citizens Radio Network, which acts as a human-early warning system. Community members watch, monitor and control the country’s areas that are potentially threatened by hazardous events, reporting back to the Commission via radio. These have led to the establishment of 115 local and more than 300 community-based emergency committees country-wide. The National Commission has created new mobile communication systems via android smart phonesdeveloped electronic, dynamic hazard maps have have been designed for each area of the country, which include data collected by the community members to be used by the same community members in their own risk management efforts.
Part of the Fulbright experience is a cultural exchange, as well as an academic exchange. We immersed ourselves in a Costa Rican middle class neighborhood and lifestyle.
TEACHING-I taught one graduate class at the University of Costa Rica in the Risk and Emergency Management Program.
In the Class..Students examined how information and communication technologies have played a role in saving lives—specifically in the areas of technologies used toward disaster preparedness and response. explored the inter-connectedness of information, people, and technologies in a crisis. examined how information is managed, organized, coordinated, and disseminated during a crisis. reflected on lessons learned from past crises, and developed strategies to manage future crises.
International Teaching InsightsThe class saw newer technologies as distracting from real technological needs, problems and solutions. The class focused more on the inter-organizational problems of collecting, curating and sharing information across organizations. Technologies were seen as large-scale databases and radio communications.
To CHANGEThe students believed there must be an external force, like a national government, which gently pushes the groups into functional relationships. The students believed that organizational action through government agencies would produce the most likely change in the emergency management system.