Companies Considering Web 2.0 Strategies Should Look to Disaster Management for Inspiration Need to Innovate, be Creative, And Empower Individuals Put Disaster Management in Forefront of Change

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Companies and government agencies considering Web 2.0 tools such as wikis, mobile social networks and mashups should look to successful disaster response operations for success stories. Because disasters can't be solved by business-as-usual approaches, good ones exhibit "emergent behavior," in which groups and individuals come together, think creatively and find innovative solutions that empower individuals.

Disaster management and homeland security consultant W. David Stephenson told business leaders that "disaster response strategy at its best is out of control -- and that's exactly why it generates the creativity, flexibility, and public involvement needed to respond to rapidly changing, unforeseeable circumstances."

He urged businesses and government agencies in all fields to "watch disaster management closely as a preview of what will happen when more organizations provide workers and customers with the freedom and the Web 2.0 tools to play an active role in management and decision-making."

Speaking at the Santa Fe Institute's "Decisions 2.0: Distributed Decision-making" seminar Stephenson said "this kind of creativity is getting an enormous boost from Web 2.0 tools such as Google mashups, wikis, tags, Flickr and, especially, mobile social network applications such as Twitter or Dodgeball.com.

Stephenson, principal of Stephenson Strategies (Medfield, MA) said that because disasters require innovation and ability to adapt rapidly to changing circumstances, disaster response is perhaps the best example to date in human society of the "emergent behavior" phenomenon. Based on observation of social insects, scientists have found groups -- including human ones -- can generate collective behavior far more sophisticated and advanced than could have been predicted from the individual participants' abilities and experience.

Stephenson cited academic researchers' evaluation of creative responses to several disasters, such as the seamless marine evacuation of up to 1/2 million people from Lower Manhattan on 9/11, with no one in charge, or the ad hoc "Cajun navy" that stepped in in New Orleans when official responses failed.

He concentrated on a more recent disaster, last Fall's San Diego wildfires, saying it was one of the first in which a wide range of Web 2.0 applications, such as the Twitter social networking application (which limits users to terse 140-character instant messages),camera phone pictures posted to Flickr, and Google mash-ups tracking the fire's spread, instantly transformed individuals into vital sources of "situational awareness" that meshed seamlessly with official information.

Looking ahead, Stephenson said that the Web 2.0 applications "will empower individuals whether or not management wants to," citing the CompanyCommand site that junior officers set up -- without senior command's approval -- to share real-time information in Iraq, as an example of how younger workers will use the tools on their own if need be. "Distributed decision-making is already a reality, and will only strengthen as these tools become more powerful. The challenge to management is to think creatively of ways to help individuals use these tools more effectively, and to create flexible processes to solicit, process, and apply the new information and insights they can gain from these new perspectives and sources."

Stephenson Strategies is a disaster management, homeland security, and Web 2.0 consulting firm specializing in innovative use of personal communication devices plus

Web 2.0 applications to empower the general public to be full partners with governments and companies in creation and delivery of services.

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DAVID STEPHENSON
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