Monday, April 4, 2011

Drive Into the Tsunami

This morning I was struck by the story of Susumu Sugawara on CNN who said that when he heard the tsunami sirens on Oshima, he jumped into his boat, riding into the oncoming wave to avoid losing his boat and risking his island's isolation in the aftermath.

The fact of his survival is miraculous.  The testament of his humble dedication to his community and his boat, to whom he said, "If we live or die, we'll be together," is profoundly touching.  (As he fled land he bade an apologetic farewell to all his other boats whom he could not save.)

It is amazing to think how many stories were lost in this tragedy.  I wondered this morning if we might be able to develop personal or device black-boxes (the way that all airplanes have to prove as record of what happened to them).  I say this not to be morbid as in the case of the posthumous/forensic case of airplanes. 

When I was in Jordan last month I irresponsibly hiked up a mountain late in the day.  When night fell faster than anticipated due to cloud cover, I was able to use my photographic history of my hike to piece together where I had been and the geology around me to help me find my way back to the road.  But if my phone had been dropping geotagged pins as I hiked, that would not have been necessary as I could have just retraced my steps.

App developers could take note of this use-case.  As it could be easily developed using Skyhook or other background geo-lookup tools already existing in most smartphones.  And perhaps in the future we'll all have devices with us that communicate actively to servers to state our last-known position and current well-being if we are ever trapped in earthquake debris needing timely help.

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