Like TrackerNews.net itself, the Editor’s blog focuses on health (human, animal, plant, and environmental), humanitarian work, and the technologies that support both. The website features links to news, research and resources, while the blog provides a little more depth and context.
Every humanitarian crisis has a health component. Every serious outbreak of disease has a humanitarian dimension. This now plays out against a backdrop of climate change. Altered weather patterns trigger floods and droughts that can affect food supplies, drive regional conflicts and expand the range of vector-borne diseases. In an ever-flattening world, regional disasters can quickly go global, while global events can have devastating local consequences. It is all of a piece.
Connecting the Dots…
Tracker is an aggregator with a few twists. Links are not limited to breaking news, but include research papers, in-depth analyses, blog and vlog posts, podcasts, videos, websites and even book reviews. A story on a major earthquake might be grouped with an older but still relevant research paper on predicting aftershocks and fresh-from-the-field blog post about a new software application for mapping damage using a cell phone.
Between 10 and 15 new links covering the range of the health-humanitarian-tech beat are added each day. Stories are not segregated by subject. Rather, the hope is that the mix will a provide a broader perspective (if only at the “peripheral vision” level) and make it easier to see connections and, perhaps, opportunities.
Finally, headline stories are not ranked by popularity — a self-reinforcing skew — but are chosen for intrinsic newsworthiness and how they add to the mix.
In contrast, resources are are organized by subject. This section includes links to organizations, professional journals, news sources and blogs, along with links to other aggregators with more depth on specific topics.
TrackerNews is the first of four planned strands that will also include Trackers on Conferences, Funding & Projects and Gear.
A Brief History
The idea for Tracker grew out of my experience as part of a large civilian / military disaster preparedness exercise called “Strong Angel III (SA3”) two years ago. For the better part of a week, hundreds of Silicon Valley’s finest gathered in a couple of crumbling buildings next to an airport runway in San Diego, intent on innovating their way to better, safer world. According to the dire scenario cooked up by SA3’s planners, terrorists had taken advantage of a global pandemic to launch a series of infrastructure-shredding cyber attacks. It was geeks to the rescue!
My job was to observe, interview and try to make sense of what was going on, writing daily summaries for a handful of SA3 organizers. No question, I had the best view in the house.
In astonishingly short order, arch competitors became supportive, enthusiastic, almost giddy collaborators. Programmers from a half dozen GIS companies worked with the team from Google Earth to figure out how to layer real-time disease surveillance and emergency data onto interactive maps. A year later, the telltale fingerprints of SA3 could be seen on news maps charting the progress of wildfires in southern California. Today, layered mapping is like email, a no-longer-miraculous part of daily digital life.
The techs faced a panel of judges much tougher than venture capitalists: a group of aid workers, veterans of floods, fires, earthquakes, war zones and refugee camps who had literally seen it all. No matter how elegant a concept, if it wasn’t practical in the field, it didn’t make the cut.
Winners and losers quickly sorted themselves out.
* Sahana’s disaster management system, developed in response to the Indonesian tsunami, was lauded for its egalitarian open-source roots, while Microsoft was rapped on the knuckles for software that barely worked with Linux and was oblivious to Apple.
* A computer and server-filled minivan with a small satellite dish strapped to its roof drove literal rings around a gas guzzling two-gallons-per-mile RV decked out with tons of medical gear.
* A lightweight satellite dish set inside a 8’ cloth globe (the “beach ball”) beat out a parking lot full of massive satellite trucks. Cheaper, requiring about 1/3 the power, it could be packed up into a couple of boxes, shippable anywhere overnight by FedEx.
My particular interest is in biology and disease surveillance, so I began imagining all sorts of mash-ups:
a cheap portable satellite dish
+ a solar refrigerator
+ rapid diagnostic tests
+ cell phones and computers (powered by micro fuel cells – let’s dream big)
+ a cell phone digital camera
+ transportation (motorized or hooved)
= one superior field lab
Researchers could collect and store samples, do on-the-spot tests, gather information, distribute vaccines, take photographs and send data back to a central lab. Wow.
Predictably, if unfortunately, the intense esprit de corps of SA3 proved impossible to sustain once everyone returned to their cubicles and daily deadlines.
I had seen this sort of thing happen before, as had Eric Rasmussen, the chief architect of Strong Angels I, II & III and now the CEO of InSTEDD. We began what became a two-year discussion on how to address the need to for better communication between people working in the health, humanitarian and tech fields.
The Tracker concept emerged as a promising approach: a lean operation with a broad reach – a tool to encourage and facilitate the exchange of news, research and ideas.
This is a beginning, a “v.1.” I am looking forward to hearing your feedbacks and ideas over the next few months. It is both a daunting and very exciting challenge.
Let’s get Tracking!
I would like to thank my colleagues at InSTEDD – Eric, Judith Kleinberg, Ed Jezierski, Robert Kirkpatrick, Mary Jane Marcus, Dennis Israelski, Taha Kass-Hout, Wendy Schultz, Susanne Jul, Luke Beckman, along with Sandro Franchi and Daniel Cazzulino – for their thoughts and leads for Tracker over the last several months. More, more, more!