Tsunami relief - Embedded.com

Tsunami relief

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This week the bell tolled for far too many of our fellow humans on this beleaguered planet. We might not be able to race there and help but help we must.

10,000. Then 16,000. Later 20,000. Now 80,000+ dead, more missing. The numbers lost in the Indian Ocean earthquake defy understanding.

Over the next days and weeks the figures will change; we can hope that they'll decline as happened after 9-11. Maybe we'll never know the real toll; islands of many nations in the region were populated by sustenance farmers and fisherfolk who may never have made their presence felt on any census.

The sheer scale of the disaster is hard to imagine, especially to those of us coddled in first world ease. I write this in a house which is comfortable despite raging winter, with an abundance of clean running water, more than my family could ever use, and a septic system that magically spirits potential contagion away to locales unknown to me.

But half a world away millions who survived now desperately seek out uncontaminated water. Relief agencies fear flooded and inadequate sewer systems may spread cholera, typhoid and other deadly diseases, greatly increasing the death and suffering that those poor people have endured already.

My kids are asleep in their rooms. I'll cook breakfast for them when they rise. They'll spend this vacation day out with their friends and return for a fine dinner this evening, one providing more calories and nutrients than they need.

In Asia too many desperately need food—just a little, even, would tide them over. Some haven't eaten in days; relief may take a long time to reach them.

Pictures convey the scale of the disaster. Some show parents sobbing over the bodies of their children. Others highlight children left without parents or siblings. Shallow mass graves lined with corpses swaddled in brightly colored rags leap out from the TV.

In On Photography Susan Sontag (who died this week) wrote that pictures distance viewers from the subjects of the photos. Perhaps that's true. Though our hearts are torn with grief at these images, somehow the reality, being there, must be unimaginably worse.

Calls for a tsunami warning system have gone out. Ironically, Sir Arthur Clarke, who has lived in Sri Lanka for nearly a half century, has had a Tsunami warning project in the works for some time (http://www.clarkefoundation.org/projects). Can technology help defray the cost in lives of the next tectonic shift? It's hard to imagine how an hour's warning would make much difference. Australians (http://www1.tpgi.com.au/users/tps-seti/spacegd7.html) fear such notice might induce people to come down to the sea for a look at the spectacle.

But technology can indeed help with Asia's current needs. There's nothing more important than aid, lots of it, billions of dollars in food, water, medicines and infrastructure repairs, quickly, before disease ups the toll even more catastrophically.

We first worlders can't line up to give blood for the victims as we did post 9-11. But we can—we must—employ the technology you're using at this minute to read this article to send donations. We embedded people built the amazing datacomm networks that link the globe. Click over to a relief agency and make a contribution. Without leaving your home, without even lifting a checkbook, you can make an important difference. Wikipedia's Donations for victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and The New York Times list relief agencies that generally take credit card donations over the Internet.

For a change this column isn't about embedded systems. But the message is important for all engineers and for all people. For as John Donne said in the 16th century:

No man is an island, entire of itself
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main
if a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were.
Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.
Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls.
It tolls for thee.

Reader Response


If someone ask me what is really happen in Tsunani disaster I answer back “Tecnology Community debacle!”.Is is not acceptable that we can reach Mars to discover if it is or it was water and in our world the water kill in the manner.

– Nicola Crotta


This brings to my mind the issue of how technology has addressed the human needs over the period oftechnological revolution. Maslow's needs hierarchy talks about primary and secondary needs. It seems that the technologyin the third world counteries caters more to higher order needs(esteem, self-realization etc)than the so-called primaryneeds. Needs hierarchy says that the primary needs(physiological, safety) should be addressed first before addressingthe higher order ones.

– Vivek Dua


I am deeply touched with your article. One hour warning would really make a difference. Even just ten minuteswas enough for some local Aceh people to evacuate, because an experienced fisherman in Banda Aceh, main city of Aceh,Indonesia, saw that the sea level was extremely low, and he realized that a tsunami may come. A girl in Thailand also didthe same thing, and even saved more than 100 tourists there.

My brother who was in Banda Aceh during the disaster was lucky enough to be a survivor. But many of my close friends werenot as fortunate as me, for they lost some of their families in Aceh. Telecommunication was cut off for about 3 days,making me unable to contact my brother during that time. Many friends of mine still couldn't contact their beloved onestill now…

– Nur Irfansyah


How are we becoming so unsensible to these real problems?

Why have we created the media, the network, the real time, the justice, the ONG's, the aircrafts, the sat's, … for?

Are we loosing our community sense? Without that the human race is dammed.

– Jos Manuel Puga


I wonder how many embedded engineers who can't help out financially as well as they'd like would be willing to volunteer some time (anywhere from 4 hours up) on some weekend to help design some of these safety-critical systems? Consider them “Open Embedded Source” projects. The Open-Source community has developed great software-only products, but what's really needed for needed safety-critical devices (tsunami detector, etc.) is the hardware solution as well. It would be “design by committee” in essence (which is not ideal), but it create well-reviewed hardware and firmware.

I think we must give this some serious thought. Remember, a couple of tsunami detectors is not going to make any company rich, and therefore no company will undertake it.

– John Patrick


The US has donated hundreds of millions of dollars. As a tax payer I will pay for some of that. That will be my donation.

– Mike


I am moved.Prevention is ALWAYS better than cure and we need ways to prevent these disasters than simply work on the aftermath.And I would stand by John Patrick for safety critical “Open Embedded Source” projects for the community. That will leadus towards better social and human health.

I would like to share this: Everytime I see something like this, I realize we must not fiddle with natures ways. Whennature strikes, it strikes real hard.

– Saravanan T S


Ram ErankiFor ppl willing to donate :many companies in the US are matching donations-dollar for dollar.Pls contact your companies for further information.There's an organization called AID which is coordinating a lot in the bay area and other tech centers of the US.If you contribute through www.sulekha.com ,your donation is automatically tripled by matching donations from youremployer and Sulekha.com

– Ram Eranki

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