I spent this past Monday at a one-day conference devoted to how Information Technology responded to the humanitarian responses of the past year (Katrina, the Tsunami, Darfur, and Afghanistan). For me, the best aspect of the conference was listening to the success stories. One memorable story involves using PDAs to collect information which could be easily collected by the main office.

I re-learned that field conditions are vastly inferior to the conditions under which applications are developed. It's extremely difficult to get *any* kind of staff in locations such as Darfur and even when staff is hired, turnover is very high which pushing training costs higher.

As expected, Data Sharing and Data Standards are a big concern. Yahoo is starting to analyze the existing standards with an eye towards how they can be used for First Responders and other aid workers.

There are fledging open-source applications that are being written (such as Sahana at http://sahana.sourceforge.net/). Plone (http://plone.org/) is being used as a content-management system by several organizations.

In conclusion, at $150 for the day the conference was well worth my time. I highly suggest attending such a conference just to get exposed to how another set of people (non-profit, disaster response teams) do their work.