Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 27, 2006

Homeland security, the eBay way?

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Technology for HLS — by Christian Beckner on June 27, 2006

Dan Prieto at the Reform Institute had an interesting op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle last Friday, suggesting the need for innovative, out-of-the-box thinking in the nation’s preparedness and response capabilities:

Disaster response is complex. It involves a dizzying array of players, from federal to state and local governments, to the private sector, to citizens and nonprofit organizations. According to the homeland security report, the “Achilles’ heel” of our national preparedness is the ability, among all those players, to identify critical supplies and resources before a disaster strikes and finding and delivering them quickly afterward.

Everyday technology, properly harnessed, can help address some of the most glaring deficiencies identified by the study. EBay became a huge success by matching specialized wants and needs: Bottle-cap collector in Iowa, meet bottle-cap seller in Texas. Craigslist succeeded by matching buyers and sellers in the same city. Sites such as Match.com couple the tastes and desires of singles, and DonorsChoose.org matches private giving with the specific needs of classrooms.

….Building an eBay-like system to match regional disaster-response needs with companies that can pledge assistance ahead of time or help out in real time would save dollars and lives. Properly built and maintained, it would ensure that the vast majority of private pledges and donations are put to good use, instead of going unused. It would allow state, local and federal governments to inventory available critical assets rapidly and would be much faster than relying on government bureaucrats to create a resource database on their own. Such a system would effectively harness the enormous, but untapped, goodwill of the private sector to play a leading role in homeland security.

I don’t know know if eBay is the best example, but I agree that systems that facilitate self-organization in disaster response are needed – and are certainly much more agile than hierarchical, command-and-control systems for disaster response.

One additional question that the op-ed provokes is whether the federal government should operate such systems, or leave them to the market to develop. If the former route is taken, then there’s a risk that systems will be overly complex or rigid. If the latter route is chosen, there’s a high probability that no single system will emerge – and you won’t develop the benefits of scope & scale that online markets like Craigslist and eBay are able to leverage. Perhaps the right route is for DHS to fund the start-up of these types of online marketplaces, and champion them, but then leave their ownership and operation to the private sector.

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2 Comments »

Comment by Rip

June 27, 2006 @ 5:39 pm

Build on a common, open sources GIS base – like Google Earth, to present data. Spacial, visual is fastest comprehension mode. GE lends itself to fairly easy connectivity to data bases and common formatting is not critical. Quantity A of Item B is located at C.
For the communication part, there was Groove (a collaborative interface engine) around a few years ago but now it apparently has been subsumed by Microsoft. I know it was suggested as a vehicle for NGO/Governmental interface in disasters and since it was open source then, the entry price was right. I guess if you are going to use that then you better base your maps on MS Virtual Earth. Don’t rely on the Government to do this 1) it will never get done. 2) it will be FU if they do it. This could be something the Gates-Buffett gang could fund. Whatever……

Comment by Michael Hampton

June 28, 2006 @ 2:44 pm

This isn\’t the first time I\’ve heard this idea. I think the first time was shortly after Hurricane Katrina. It seems workable, if you let the people who would actually participate in it direct its structure and growth.

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