Many years ago I was a program manager for a technology called Microsoft Repository. It was my first introduction to the world of metadata. Seeing how important it was to companies to create repositories of the enterprise data available within their company was key to enhancing business operations through technologies such as data warehouses and business intelligence.

When working in a crisis we however seem to create multiple repositories of crisis information in multiple platforms. What makes it even worse is that each organization creates their own repository for the data they gather. Some of these repositories are formal and collect all the different metadata about the crisis data, but others are simply file shares where data files get copied.

Attempts have been made in the past to create some repositories. This is especially true in the GIS world, where solutions have been created to store the various GIS products and collect the metadata about each product. But often these solutions have been run by individual organizations or have been restricted to just showing what data is available and not provide access to the data itself.

And the other thing that we really want to do is actually collect as much of the baseline data that we need before a disaster actually strikes.

The case of Haiti also teaches us that these datasets can not sit in the disaster affected countries themselves, because they may either get destroyed during the disaster or be hard to get to in the chaos following the disaster.

I would like to see us move towards a crisis information repository that lives in the cloud. The cost of storage in large scale data centers has gone drastically and that provides us with an opportunity to get economies of scale. By establishing a single collaborative Crisis Information Repository where everyone can contribute and retrieve data from then we can simplify the life of crisis information managers in the times of disasters by providing them with a single place to go to. Just like you have data.gov as a single source of open, available government data in the US we need a single place everyone can go to and retrieve data from. And when they create new data they can contribute to that same repository.

I don’t know what it takes to make this kind of effort a reality, but mainly I think it needs a mind shift in the organizations of wanting to share and collaborate in this way.

If you feel strongly about this lets work together and figure out a way to make this a reality.

Published October 4th 2010 at DisasterExpert