Satellite image of Gene:

The recent cyclones in Fiji and subsequent difficulties faced by the authorities in responding to calls for assistance, brings up important questions about disaster planning and management.

Here is a March 2007 article about a small town on the Golf Coast of the United States modernizing its IT infrastructure to deal with the constant threat of hurricanes. The city’s goals specifically were to create a back-up data center for storage of critical information and to utilize a WiMAX network to ensure uninterrupted communication.

On the questions of cost-savings and deployment:

“When we looked at this project, we chose Wi-Max because it meant only having to place three towers over 100 square miles, rather than thousands of access points with Wi-Fi,” Guy said.

The model developed by IBM is projected to save the city more than $1.4 million over the potential 10-year service period compared to other commercial wireless mobility offerings, IBM reported.

Important to note is that a system implemented for disaster management needs of small local government administration can be used to piggy-back the internet connectivity needs for the city. The article also goes on to state that the project will offer wireless internet access for citizens as part of an effort to improve technology availability and increasing the technical skills of citizens.

In Fiji, it cannot be expected of businesses to invest in such technologies. As such, it is very important for government authorities to understand the technology and work to create the infrastructure.

Wireless communication is not a panacea. It will not cure the cases of diarrhea creating misery for children in the Northern division in the aftermath of Gene. However, the availability of technology and improved education of citizens can only make them take a greater role in planning for their well-being after a disaster strikes.

While it may sound foolish to be talking about wireless networks in light of such critical shortages of things like clean drinking water, we must not lose sight of the longterm need to educate and bring up the awareness level of all citizens in Fiji–so that they may take a more active role in planning for these disasters.