Thursday, October 06, 2005

Individuals Versus FEMA, Which Is Better?

The Times Oct 5 had an interesting article on an individual who did great work in reestablishing communications after Katrina, using wireless Internet networking--apparently used in rural areas using antennas and parts of the radiomagnetic spectrum. (See note below.)

The issue is why could he do so well in comparison with a bureaucracy like FEMA. I think it's related to why the Aussie's could win the Nobel in medicine by proving bacteria cause ulcers. The points are:
  • some knowledge and expertise (pathology in the case of the Nobel, WISP in the case of the Katrina)
  • existence outside the established networks (one's ideas aren't prestructured by being part of a job within a web of interacting people. In the case of the Nobel, the instigator was simply an observant pathologist, not an ulcer specialist. In the case of Katrina, the guy was simply an entrepreneur who had a sideline of doing wireless in rural areas.)
  • supportive resources (the Aussies got money for their work, the Katrina guy put up his own money, then attracted support from outsiders who wanted to help).
FEMA probably does not have anyone whose job is to look for ways to reestablish communications. It probably does have people whose job is to work on telephones and cell phones and radio, etc. But the wireless network is new technology, so it wouldn't be incorporated into the FEMA structure (or the structure of state emergency management, either). Even if someone in FEMA had the knowledge, it didn't fit his or her job. In the aftermath of Katrina, everyone at FEMA had to do their job.

Note: This is the Times description:
In one swoop, Mr. Dearman not only connected people in crisis, but he also illustrated the power of long-distance wireless networks, an emerging technology that uses unlicensed radio-wave bandwidth to send Internet signals into rural towns and cities, where the connections are locally accessible, much like Wi-Fi hot spots. The networks typically use microwave dishes and routers to beam and distribute the information many miles in the air from an original Internet connection.

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