easy can information management be?
the creation of information services does not always have to
be that complicated.
are many complex information services that offer us a wide variety
of products and results. Geographic Information System (GIS) packages
are based on conceptual models, algorithms and advanced software
that require significant financial and human resources to be developed.
There are countless examples showing that currently, the creation
and subsequent implementation of information systems and services
may represent an arduous task even for those organizations that
have all types of resources.
there are situations when there is no alternative to complexity.
The recreation of meteorological scenarios requires complex mathematical
models, and the number of calculations is so great that only the
most advanced and expensive information systems are able to forecast
the weather efficiently and, even so, they are reliable only on
rare occasions if such forecasts go beyond 10 days. Along these
lines, Google, the well-known internet search engine, requires thousands
of employees, computers, servers and other resources to produce
are problems that need exact solutions to be really solved. The
case of a spaceship placed in orbit above Mars represents such an
example. In many occasions, very accurate solutions need hundreds
of millions of calculations and operations per second. There are
other problems that are not easy to grasp and, although they appear
to be less complicated, might include algorithms that require hours,
days or months to come up with a satis factory solution.
it is easy to feel intimidated by information technology, and think
that those institutions without substantial resources will never
be able to develop attractive and useful information services.
reality shows that there are also many cases and situations in which
it is possible to achieve very satisfactory results with less ambitious
services. When solving problems it is often possible to use relatively
simple algorithms that, although less accurate than their advanced
counterparts, operate thousands of times faster. It is also feasible
to simplify many complex problems and generate solutions that address
most scenarios for a given domain.
daily life it happens frequently that even small pieces of information
-as modest and limited as they can be- will facilitate decision-making.
How many times haven’t we come to realize that a little bit
more knowledge of the context in which we move may help us cope
with a problem much more efficiently?
may seem that the above has little or nothing to do with disaster
mitigation, but there is a different aspect to it. In the following
paragraphs, we will see how.
is not always high-cost
many parts of the world, particularly in developing countries and
regions, clear, easy-to-access and low-cost information is a precious
resource valued by many people and institutions. In places that
lack access to disaster information systems, a new web site or system
with basic information on institutional contacts and disaster prevention,
represents great progress. Regarding the origin of the information,
it does not have to come from high-technology or expensive sources.
For example, risk maps that are prepared by communities themselves,
without the use of advanced technologies or geographic information
systems, can be very effective as disaster prevention instruments,
and the process of developing them may activate social and community
processes that would not be possible without broad-based community
participation. In fact, the outcome of a community process may be
a high degree of motivation and involvement in activities aimed
at reducing vulnerability to existing threats.
terms of information management, we also have a number of choices.
Relatively simple but effective services requiring little investment
may suffice to meet many of the needs of those people that are interested
in disaster prevention. It is quite possible to think of and create
realatively simple products that respond very well to a particular
need. It is feasible to do this in a small information center with
very few staff members, including a person knowledgeable of information
technology. It is also possible to make use of certain services
that already exist on the internet and which often may be used for
good example of developing a modest but still useful information
service may be the creation of a web site or page containing good
quality information of the following categories:
A contact list, which doesn’t need to be long in order to
be useful and practical. This list can be used as a reference for
locating institutions and people who work in the areas of disaster
preparedness, mitigation and response.
A list of links to a number of other websites on related issues,
such as meteorological forecasts.
Basic information on news and phenomena to which the webpage makes
reference. This information may include documents, opinions or a
If the website’s collection grows, it will be probably be
convenient to include a search service, which can be obtained for
free, or use a basic search engine devel oped in-house. If the volume
of files in your site does not exceed a couple of thousand, rather
basic search engines usually are more than enough to meet most user
following is an example of a basic web page on hurricanes, which
contains a few sections covering those areas that would likely be
of interest to most users.
Example of an easy-start up basic service
can be seen, this web page is divided into reasonably clear sections.
It contains elementary information on hurricanes, security measures,
and sections related to prevention, assistance to special groups,
sites of interest and contacts. It also includes an information
web page like this one may be of use to quite a large audience as
long as information is reviewed and updated periodically. Access
to clear information in a timely and straightforward manner is probably
much more important than technological sophistication itself. From
an information technology standpoint, the set-up of a service similar
to that of the example is not all that complex, and basic training
should suffice for the necessary institutional capacity building
and for production of web pages.
advantage of starting simple is that services can be developed gradually
and in accordance with the institution’s own capacities and
availability of human and technological resources. Furthermore,
a small website, such as the one pictured in the figure above, does
not even require its own server, as it could be managed by a web-hosting
company for a low fee, generally less that US$ 100 per year. In
a later stage, as institutional capacities increase, more features
may be added to the website.
fact, basic information services can be created satisfactorily with
little or no additional investment in software, and it can be done
rather quickly, too. There are other advantages associated with
a modest but efficient start-up: it fosters motivation, creativity
and a sense of ‘ownership’ of those who offer the internet-based
information services. And these are important factors for stimulating
alternative is using ‘Website Content Managers’, which
allow you to free yourself from many technical aspects when designing
and maintaining a web page or site. As such, it offers a convenient
working model in which experience in information technology is not
required for updating the contents of a website. In general, the
only thing to do is modify, add or update the information to be
posted on the Internet, through the use of automated forms that
can be accessed from anywhere, allowing work to be done from a distant
location. These tools are not always adequate for all types of tasks
and have some limitations. Nevertheless, they can be extremely useful
in places where there are no, or not enough, skilled human resources
in information technology.
Website Content Managers can be obtained commercially or for free
at a number of websites. One of those sites is http://opensourcecms.com/,
which offers a variety of alternatives at no cost. To see a concrete
example in action, visit the following website: http://cidbimena.desastres.hn/.
This site belongs to one of the centers associated with the Central
American Network for Disaster and Health Information.
Advancing step by step
the services described above may be very useful, there are other
information centers (incipient or with experience) and institutions
that wish to expand the scope of their services, as well as improve
their technological development capacities. Along these lines, even
for institutions with limited technical and financial resources
there are several working models that are appropriate for responding
to a growing demand for information. These models usually address
one or more of the following aspects:
Training and capacity building for creating and/or
implementing technical tools.
Use of commercial or low-cost (or free) open source
• Information management training.
Production and dissemination of specific low, medium
and high-technology information products.
Knowledge transfer techniques to help other
institutions become part of functional networks.
One working model was created by CRID within the framework of the
‘Central American Network for Disaster and Health Information’
project. This project has accumulated a large variety of experience
and lessons learned regarding the set-up and management of information
centers in several Central American countries. In order to help
institutions benefit from this experience and knowledge, an educational
and reference toolkit will be developed, covering many relevant
aspects that relate to setting up and operating a disaster information
tool will mainly address initiatives in the areas of disasters and
health, but may well be applicable to other fields of sustainable
development as well.
and guidelines included in this toolkit draw on real-life experience
and incorporate work and strategies that are transparent, low-cost,
and well adapted to the social and institutional realities that
prevail in many developing countries.
made in the field of disaster reduction involve the broad-based
participation of many social stakeholders who cope with both recurrent
and changing situations. In order to ensure that the management,
planning and implementation of activities aimed at reducing disasters
is effective, it is essential to offer reliable, good quality and
updated information to managers and others working in this field.
Some of the areas of work where the efficient dissemination of quality
information is paramount are: risk management, the design of early
warning systems, community education, and health management in disaster
situations. Information dissemination is also key to coordinating
agencies that work in the field of disaster reduction.
How a simple problem could cost …
that the purpose of a particular software is to generate and
determine all likely combinations containing 7 variables (which
can be repeated) from a list of 45, and then, assess whether
these combinations will generate any relevant information,
such as saving in costs, or any other useful information,
depending on the particular problem.
turns out that for this problem, which at fist sight may seem
rather simple, a computer may well require lots of time. In
fact, if calculating one single combination only requires
one millionth of a second, analyzing and solving the entire
problem requires at least 104 hours (more than 4 days)!
the context may facilitate acquisition of meaning...
that you are asked to find a particular person among a group
of people. The characteristics of the person you are seeking
are not noticeably distinctive from others, because it is
a person without any exceptional physical features or clothing.
If the group is made up of 1,000 people, you will have to
assess each of them. In this case, the searching strategy
will most likely be one by one. If assessing each one of them
takes you one second, you will need an average of 500 seconds
to find that person.
time: (a*N)/2, where ‘a’ represents the processing
time per information unit, and N is the number of units. For
example: (1*1000)/2=500 seconds.
if you knew that this person wears a yellow hat (an uncommon
feature among this group), your searching strategy could be
much faster. Generally, the time required for doing the search
in a similar situation is a great deal less than when there
is no additional information available which would enable
you optimize your strategy. In this example, you might finish
20 times faster.
processing time would be as follows: (a*(N/b))/2 where ‘a’
represents the processing time per information unit (in this
case, a subgroup of people), N is the number of units and
‘b’ is the average size of the group of units
to be processed in one single visual scanning step. For example:
new toolkit will be developed to help create and manage small-
and medium-sized information centers …
Regional Disaster Information Center for Latin America and
the Caribbean (CRID) offers training material and guides,
which can be obtained through its website. Recently published
was a new training package entitled ‘Disaster Information
Management: Work Model and Tools’.
2004 and early 2005, CRID will develop a toolkit that focusses
on the set-up and management of disaster information centers.
Although the material is aimed at managing information centers
that specilize in the area of disasters, it will most probably
be of use in other areas as well.
toolkit addresses the following thematic areas:
I.- The link between disasters and information
II.- Management of information centers
III.- Information management
IV.- Working methodologies
V.- Knowledge transfer
working models will be explored and the material will also
include special features, such as rural education resources
for disseminating information. It will be available in early
further information, please contact:
Dave Paul Zervaas
General Coordinator, CRID