Idea #1: Catastrophe Strike Force

Do you remember the old movie “Night Shift”?  No, this isn’t about prostitution in a morgue.  However, I have quite a few characteristics of  the character played by a young Michael Keaton, Bill “Blaze” Blazejowski.  Like him, I am an “idea man”.  I have momentary flashes of ideas, some of them really good ideas, yet I don’t have the discipline, nor the attention span to see those ideas to fruition by myself.  I am easily on to the next idea before I can fully develop the first.

Blazejowski wrote his ideas on post-it notes so he wouldn’t forget them.  I have decided to use this blog for that purpose.

The other day, while pondering the heart-rending situation in Kentucky, one of those ideas came to me.  First, a little background.

Most of you are familiar, I think, with distributed computing and server virtualization.  Basically, the computing power of a bank of servers is shared: when one piece of hardware is idle, other pieces of hardware tied to it can “borrow” its computing power.  Later, if that hardware is highly taxed, it “borrows” some power from others who are idle.

Fellow techies, sorry for the oversimplification, I’m just going for the main idea here.

Anyway, it occurred to me: aren’t there certain things rural* people need in a catastrophe, no matter the cause?  I’m thinking generators, gas grills to cook with, water, and personal supplies.  There are others, but the specifics aren’t as important right now.

So, I’m thinking, why not set up a charitable organization whose main purpose is to get these things to the people who need them, when they need them?  I know, you’re thinking, “isn’t that what FEMA is for?”  Possibly.  But my work with complex systems tells me that the larger an organization, the more cumbersome it is.  I want to actually solve the problem.

No,  from my experience, the most successful systems are set up like Al Queda:  decentralized, encapsulated, modular, and highly mobile.

So, here’s what I’m thinking:  rural catastrophe supplies are needed in the Gulf coast from July-Nov.  They are needed in ice-storm prone areas from Nov-Mar.  A smart organization will only have to buy half the generators and such for the total number of people served (so start-up costs are much lowered) , and get them where they are needed in quick-strike fashion.

The  Churches of Christ Disaster Relief effort is a good model for the distribution – they can set up on a dime and get supplies where they are needed.  But, bless their hearts, they focus on food, water and cleaning supplies (much needed, mind you), and do not focus on the big-ticket items a rural person needs to survive without electricity.

Nevertheless, whether piggybacking on the CCDRE, or creating an entirely new distribution system (using all available technology to speed things up), my catastrophe strike force could get generators to people in a day, if not hours.  If rural homeowners sign up for the program, the force, once activated, will know exactly where to go and who is there (the opposite was a problem with the Kentucky ice storm).

Let’s face it: rural folks are far more likely to give personal information to a charitable organization they know will help them when they are trouble than the government. 

I know there are many problems with the idea, mainly:

*This plan wouldn’t work so well in cities, because the needs are different when people aren’t as spread out.  If you have a bunch of people crammed together, you have to restore electricity to a smaller area.  As we learned with Katrina, the biggest need in an urban catastrophe is to get people out.

Another problem: you have to trust that the person recieving help will give back the $500 to $1500 generator and other things when they no longer need them.

There are, of course, many other problems, but I post this here nonetheless because all I do is come up with the ideas.  You folks are smarter than me, and could find a way to make it work.

That’ll do for now, till the next flash hits me.

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