E-government and the volcano

Where was/is e-government during the current/recent travel crisis? Having been stranded in Tarragona, south of Barcelona, amongst a group
of foreign nationals wanting to get home or elsewhere after a
conference, I thought I should asked the question, what, if anything
could or should e-government have done?

From my view, the first target on the hotel or university Internet connections were the airlines, then the home language newspapers, then
the alternative transport modes, such as buses and trains. I don’t
recall anyone looking at a government page or being directed to one. In
Spain the confusion was compounded by lack of information on the French
rail strike.

Whilst the newspapers made claims about British warships being sent and consular assistance at every airport, we saw none of this. First, one
was advised to stay away from the airports and secondly, how was the
true message supposed to dissipate through the bands of people divided
between the practicalities of needing additional accommodation and
finding alternative transport?

If Martha Lane Fox, founder of lastminute.com, is such a leading light for the UK government,

couldn’t someone have scraped together the intrinsic information from IATA, ABTA and the rest and presented
something? The newflashes were full of people developing applications
for car-sharing across Europe, but part of the issue for travellers to
and from the UK became getting across the Channel.

Much of the information available online or through the BBC World Service appeared inconsistent and focused upon travellers sleeping at
airports, whilst what the travellers themselves need to know were
alternative routes and whether they should take them. After failing to
get a satisfactory solution from EasyJet we resorted to booking the
earliest combination of trains and buses we could get onto, all done
from an Asus EEE over very slow hotel wi-fi at midnight.

If incidents of this type are to become more frequent, as a result of natural occurences, terrorist action or civil disturbances,
shouldn’t we prepare? The Internet was created for military purposes,
the WWW for unifying scientific research, can we now use Gov 2.0 for
joining up information sources? Perhaps it might be the making of
e-government? Was it any better for other nationals? This, of course,
is a UK opinion, although I did initially relate to my conference
colleagues from across the globe!

I’m not forgetting those without access and one of the noticeable factors in the episode was how well verbal messages got around at bus
and train stations and even the airports we weren’t supposed to gather
at. I also noticed the prolific use made of the only available very
dodgy-looking Internet cafes.

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Srinidhi Boray

GovLoop coud have done a lot, had you posted a question or an inquiry. In fact I hoping to see some stranded passenger ask such a question. Probably a new feature could be introduced in GovLoop especially for crisis management. In fact I was also hoping something about the recent tornado in Mississippi. But no one used GovLoop.

Certainly in the past internet, blogs ad tweeters has provided a lot of needy information and relief to people trapped by crisis.

Andrew Krzmarzick

I did see this article from the Times of India:


With most flights in and out of western Europe grounded, social networking websites emerged as an essential tool for flyers seeking ways of reaching their destination.

Right from the Calais Rescue service which was organized through Twitter to bring foot passengers from across France back home in a small boat, to Skjutsgruppen, to the Swedish carpool movement putting together lifts from across Europe on Facebook, social networking and wireless technology managed to find a new purpose in the situation.

Estonia, a minnow nation known for being internet savvy, on Monday said it had turned to Twitter and Facebook to help its nationals stranded across Europe.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Kersti Luha said the government was using the microblogging service and social networking site to keep Estonians informed about ways to get home overland.

“We’ve turned our ministry sites at Twitter and Facebook into the main source of help for our passengers trapped all over Europe,” Luha said. “Anyone wishing to return home can look at these sites to see whether there are free seats available at buses or cars coming from where they are to Estonia,” she added.

– my emphasis

James Purser

@Srinidhi great as govloop is I don’t think it was ever going to be the best place for exchanging information about the volcano and flight cancellations. It’s not really setup for that sort of rapid fire, real time communication.

Twitter and Facebook on the other hand, with their publically available API’s, numerous third party clients and real time capabilities provided the right platform for getting the information out into the world properly.

Andrew Krzmarzick

@James – Not yet ๐Ÿ™‚ But we’re working on it…the practical application could have been government to government communication, enabling one country to learn about another country’s tactics, then replicating quickly to better serve citizens. What do you think?

Srinidhi Boray

I think GovLoop must evolve to serve anything public service, especially when it involves US Citizens. All possible resources must be put into use. And, who are the best to serve? Public servants. Social networking combined with other networking could produce “network” effect. Possibly in future there could be customized mash-ups of data feeds also convergence of different government folks from different agencies could better collaborate. There are endless possibilities for service. Already one of the member is touting better access of legal related data to general public. GovLoop to my mind has the potential to evolve as “the most effective and objective” public service network. It is now waiting to get on its threshold.

James Purser

@Andrew oh certainly, developing govloop as a known good inter-governmental communication channel is an excellent idea, and given the growing number of Aussies turning up, you guys seem to be doing a decent job ๐Ÿ™‚

@Srinidhi I’m not sure I agree. In the Unix and Linux world there is a saying: One Tool, One Task done well. Essentially it argues against the sort of overarching “Be everything to everyman” approach. What Govloop does and does well is allow people to talk and share experiences. What it doesn’t do so well is provide a mashup platform, collaborative “common desktop” environment and so on. And that’s fine, there are other tools for that.

Srinidhi Boray

@James, dont forget Unix as opposed to MS, when it evolved it was multiuser, multiprocessing, multitasking. Also, many parallel processing have been better built on Unix. I use Mac, Snow Leopard uses Unix kernel and I do many things at one time ๐Ÿ™‚ That is also President Obama’s slogan many things concurrently will be managed rather effectively. This is an architecture challenge. Social-networking assumes “pluralistic” framework where many different things converge, but all related to public service on GovLoop.