At TED 2006, Google.org’s Executive Director Larry Brilliant made a wish called InSTEDD: to use the Internet as an early warning system for the outbreak of diseases. Larry’s InSTEDD originally stood for the International System for Total Early Disease Detection. He based his wish on Canada’s Global Public Health Information Network (GPHIN) which had detected the early outbreak of SARS by crawling the web (including blogs) for key words (symptoms) in multiple languages.
Larry got his wish and put Peter Carpenter at the helm of InSTEDD. In early 2007, Peter and his team held a number of meetings with UN agencies in Geneva and New York (which I actively participated in) to map out current gaps in the humanitarian community vis-a-vis information communication technology. The winds began to change around mid-2007 and by the Fall an entirely new team lead by Eric Rasmussen (former Navy Fleet Surgeon) and Robert Kirkpatrick (formerly with Microsoft) changed InSTEDD’s course. I have had several engaging conversations with them in both Boston and Geneva. Robert is particularly keen on taking a more decentralized approach to early warning and response; rather refreshing and rare.
In between my meetings with Peter’s team and Eric’s, InSTEDD was edited to mean “Innovative Solutions to Emergencies, Diseases and Disasters,” and subsequently re-edited with the word Solutions switched to Support. This editing necessarily expanded InSTEDD’s focus and within a few short months, the new InSTEDD team quickly positioned itself as the new doctor on the block for the humanitarian community’s ailing information communication technologies (ICTs).
At TED 2008, the InSTEDD team officially announced their plan to spearhead a new journal entitled “Humanitarian Technology Review“. While I share some of the same concerns articulated by Paul Curion, the public health and disaster management communities have almost always been ahead in their adoption of new ICTs compared to the conflict prevention and conflict early warning community. At the end of the day, whether in disaster or conflict zones, ICTs can provide much needed real-time and geo-referenced information for situational awareness.