RealTime IT News

Sim Day to Focus on Tech Activism

"Technology to the rescue."

That could be the mantra of a group of technology experts who will convene on Tuesday to show that BlackBerrys and Wi-Fi hotpots can be used for more than e-mail and mixing wireless with your latte.

Silicon Valley Simulation Day, or Sim Day, will demonstrate how the latest IT and communications technologies can be used during natural or man-made disasters.

The idea is to make use of available networks and the everyday wireless devices banging around in everyone's pockets to spread information and coordinate emergency efforts, said Don Bruce, founder of event sponsor TechReach International.

Event organizers hope to build increased awareness among the Silicon Valley technorati and others throughout the world that talented people and technology can come together to make a difference.

"We want to attract the same kind of people involved in creating open source software and Linux and motivate them to focus on disaster preparedness here and in third-world countries," Bruce told internetnews.com.

The technology that will be on display includes a satellite-based crisis communications center, solar-powered PCs and telephones, and PDA mapping devices that were brought into service for Katrina.

The non-profit Geeks without Borders will also be on hand to show off its wireless and solar prowess.

TechReach is a spin-off of HumaniNet, a global organization that provides information and assistance on information and communications technologies to humanitarian groups worldwide.

Last year, for example, HumaniNet worked with teams to coordinate the use of technology aid following the massive earthquake in Pakistan. The group was also on hand following Katrina and the devastation in New Orleans.

Bruce is a HumaniNet board member and decided to launch TechReach to focus on the communications infrastructure needs and failures during a disaster.

There are many situations, for example, where aid workers in a foreign country had to drive hours to find a communications link back to the United Nations for information.

Aid workers also can't easily share information if there are no wireless links.

TechReach hopes to eliminate those problems by relying on tech-savvy volunteers and mostly off-the-shelf technology to provide communications lifelines.

"We really have our eyes set on a wireless, satellite and solar solution that will support other groups that deliver food, agriculture support and medical training to people in these third-world environments.

These efforts, as well as Bruce's background in the medical community, may cause some people to put TechReach in the same category as Doctors without Borders, a well-known volunteer group that provides volunteer medical assistance to third-world regions.

That may be a stretch, Bruce said.

"We're a bit more hum-drum," he said.

"They're more like Indiana Jones, and I'm looking to just improve the capacity of clinics and services and let them keep up to date with culturally relevant information through technology."