The Disaster Stack Essay

1055 words - 5 pages

It's a truism that technological progress increases the possibilities for disaster and makes it easier for disasters to grow into catastrophes. At the same time, there are aspects of technology that could help us deal with threats. This essay is about using hobbyists, charity, clever business practices, and government cooperation to create a "Disaster Stack" of machines, knowledge, and people to respond to disasters:
• Layer 1: The communication network.
The two most obvious disaster threats to communications are:
o Loss of electrical power. The power needed to run smartphones is orders of magnitude less than the needs of civilization as a whole. With a little bit of forethought and ...view middle of the document...

Besides storing knowledge, we can store plans and programs, customized for each of the disaster scenarios we consider.
o Building Layer 2 would be a crowdsourced version of scenario-based planning. It would be a vast project, though in the beginning not a great deal more ambitious than Wikipedia. Even more than Wikipedia, it would be an ongoing effort: a growing hierarchy, its roots being grand categories of disaster, its leaves being discussions of particular possibilities and responses (and pointers to common response libraries).
o One of the virtues of scenario-based disaster planning is that it allows the independent study of completely contradictory policies. (For instance, the recommended response to aircraft hi-jacking before 9/11 was very different than after 9/11.) In some cases, these contradictory policies can't be resolved before the event. Having both represented in Layer 2 would give responders insights and options (and even diagnostics) that could be applied immediately in the presence of surprises.
o Building the Disaster Stack involves doing things long before any particular disaster occurs. Unfortunately, the number of possible disaster scenarios collides with the bounded resources of the planners (be they individuals or nation states). The structure of Layer 2 would provide insight to those with access to money -- both to inspire them to re-estimate risks and to survey the hierarchy for feasible projects that would have leverage across a range of possible disasters. So for instance, introducing a small change in smartphone sensors and protocols might have a large positive effect for many different scenarios.
o Certification and assessment is an essential part of building the knowledge base and programs that make up Layer 2. However, considering the size and contentious nature of the possibilities, certification and assessment should not be the monopoly of any single entity. (I would prefer to have choices about whom to trust per scenario and context.)
o Disasters will happen, but hopefully the smaller ones will continue to be more common than the larger. In principle, the Disaster Stack scheme scales from "disasters" as small as losing one's car keys all the way up to a giant meteor strike....

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