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11/13/2009
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Tech Giants Aim To Master Disaster

Microsoft, Google, Yahoo form alliance to develop software solutions for improving emergency response efforts.

Three of the world's top tech firms, along with the U.S. space agency, have teamed up to develop software they hope will help organizations better prepare for, and respond to, disasters such as natural catastrophes and terrorist strikes.

Microsoft is temporarily putting aside its rivalry with Google to cooperate with the search giant on the initiative, in concert with Yahoo, NASA, and The World Bank.

The alliance will sponsor workshops, dubbed "Random Hacks of Kindness," that will bring together software engineers and disaster preparedness experts from all over the world to work on solutions for disaster preparedness and recovery.

Software developed through the effort will be openly shared with the international community, according to the companies. "Our hope is that this software will address some of the serious challenges facing the disaster response community, and evolve in response to their needs," they said.

The responses to disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center have been hampered by communication problems. In the case of the World Trade Center, surviving firefighters complained that their radios didn't work once they were inside the buildings. As a result, many did not hear evacuation orders.

In New Orleans, logistical breakdowns meant that some survivors were stranded for days amid rising floodwaters.

Random Hacks of Kindness sponsors said IT can play a major role in boosting the effectiveness of response efforts. "This is the first step in building a global community dedicated to solving disaster relief challenges through technology," the organizers said.

The group's first meeting is this weekend at the Hacker Dojo in Mountain View, Calif., where Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator Craig Fugate will deliver a keynote speech.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on leading-edge government IT -- and how the technology involved may end up inside your business. Download the report here (registration required).

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