Haiti Quake a Reminder of Need for National IT Corps/Reserve

Don Tennant

As we approach the four-week mark since Haiti was devastated by the massive earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people, we can begin to reflect on the relief effort and what entities have truly made a difference. At the top of my list are the active-duty U.S. military and the U.S. Army and Air National Guard. At the bottom of my list is the U.S. IT profession.


We can all take a great deal of pride in the heroic contributions that U.S. servicemen and women have made to the relief effort, and the sacrifices they've made as they continue to save lives and deliver basic necessities to the stricken population. Certainly, healthcare professionals and journalists are doing their part, as well. But where are the IT pros?


To be sure, IT vendor companies have done more than their share. According to CNET:

Google has pledged $1 million and set up a special page for donations and added updated satellite imagery of the region to Google Maps. Microsoft has said it will give up to $1.25 million in cash and in-kind donations, as well as match employee contributions as part of its standard program that matches up to $12,000 per worker in donations each year. Apple has set up a donation mechanism within iTunes, while a campaign by the Red Cross and the cellular industry to raise money via text message donations has pulled in more than $4 million, according to a Verizon Wireless spokesman. The Intel Foundation is offering to match personal donations by the chipmaker's workers, up to $2,000 per employee, while AMD said it will match donations of time or money by workers, up to $3,000 per employee. Goddady.com said it is donating $500,000 to Hope for Haiti. Symantec is donating $50,000 to CARE, and is also matching worker donations, up to $1,000 per worker. Salesforce.com, meanwhile, is matching public donations made via a special Web site up to $100,000.

Kudos to all of those providers of IT products and services, and to the many other companies that have arisen to the humanitarian call. But what about the backbone of IT, the people who make up the profession? I visited the Web sites of every IT professional organization I can think of, and with one exception, I could find no indication that any of these organizations has done anything of substance to respond to one of the most horrific natural disasters in this part of the world in recent history.


I saw nothing from the Society for Information Management, IEEE, or the Association of Information Technology Professionals. Nothing from the Programmers Guild, the American Society for Information Science and Technology, or the Association for Computing Machinery. Nothing from the National Center for Women and Information Technology, and nothing from Women in Technology International.


The lone exception was Black Data Processing Associates. The home page of the BDPA Web site has been devoted almost exclusively to a call for assistance to the people of Haiti. Front and center is an appeal from BDPA National President Yvette Graham:

BDPA Family, it is with sadness that I send this message to you, but by now each of you have seen and heard of the devastation that has occurred in Haiti. So many lives have been lost and communities destroyed. I am asking each of you to support the citizens of Haiti. Many prayers are going out for the people in Haiti as well as the families and friends across these United States who are trying so desperately to locate their loved ones there. National BDPA urges its members and supporters to donate to Haiti to aid in the recovery of this nation. I am urging you to contribute what you can as soon as possible.

Most of the remainder of the home page carries information to facilitate contributions to the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and Yele Haiti. It was an exemplary response, and a call to action that might have been expected from other professional organizations, as well.


The lack of concerted, coordinated, timely action by a profession that has so much to contribute isn't something that warrants finger-pointing. But it does warrant our attention. Unquestionably, there's a huge number of good-hearted IT workers who would be eager to help when disaster strikes, but have no idea where to begin. We all saw it on Sept. 11, 2001, when countless IT pros were desperate to help in any way they could, and many did. But there was no mechanism in place to enable a coordinated, disciplined, efficient response.


Unfortunately, more than eight years later, we still lack such a mechanism. Fortunately, we have a superb model for it: the National Guard and Reserve. Within the framework of a national service program, we need to create a National IT Corps/Reserve that could be called into action when disaster strikes at home or in neighboring countries.


It's not too late for those IT professional organizations to get off the sidelines and into the game. High on their 2010 agendas should be an intra-organizational effort to develop a strategy to create a National IT Corps/Reserve. Make that very high. The next catastrophic event could be even closer to home.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Feb 8, 2010 11:41 AM tonixtonix tonixtonix  says:

What a one sided and selective chastising this article is! The United States alone has given more aid to Haiti in private and tax payer funded donations than the rest of the world combined. Your attempt at forced corporate altruism and soda straw reporting bias based on reported donations to this one (of very many) disasters we have faced recently world-wide is slanted, missing relative comparative data, and completely one sided. No individual or company has any obligation to give any of its hard earned profits away for the "greater good,"  -ever.

Feb 8, 2010 1:29 PM Don Tennant Don Tennant  says: in response to tonixtonix

I'm not sure what 'side' you're referring to when you say that what I wrote is one-sided, but if your side is the one that believes no individual or company has any obligation to give any of its hard-earned profits away for the greater good, ever, I'm very happy to be on the other side.

Feb 8, 2010 3:51 PM Drunken Economist Drunken Economist  says: in response to Don Tennant

Mumbai Don doesn't understand the concepts of 'employee matching' and 'time value of capital' because he's never WORKED in the private sector.

Here's a BIG HINT for you Donny: "I gave at the office."

If I already donated 'at the office' via 'employee matching' why do I then need to AGAIN donate thru my professional association?

Also, in the case of all these donations whether its 'employee matching' or anything else is that there is a 'donation period' where the money sits in a type of escrow and earns INTEREST. Yup, we don't need your blankets or supplies, just give us CASH or match out of your salary, or in the case of Apple, buy this app that we make 30% on.. and then slowly pay out to the author because time value of capital/money is part of the model.

But you won't hear this from Donny because he's all about the copypasta. And double- or triple- dipping into the middle class for lost causes.

Charity begins AT HOME. But don't tell Mumbai Donny that.

This is just another lame attempt at a 'hit piece'.. so far, this is the SECOND most incoherent, silly thing I've seen this week. The other than Carly Fiorina and her 'red eyed sheep' ad.

That's the thing about you Boomsters: You love using other people's money, and you make less sense the more you open your yaps.

-Drunken Economist



Feb 8, 2010 4:56 PM tonixtonix tonixtonix  says: in response to Don Tennant

Sir, it is your personal choice to be on the side that chooses to write checks but it is off the mark to judge companies by their check writing numbers as a means to evaluate their value, good will and nature.

I say your argument is one sided because you praise the National Guardsman called to serve, yet have not considered that generous (IT) employers are the ones who help facilitate their service and make it possible for them to do that job.

As an IT manager in California, a state with the largest National Guard in the country and probably the most disasters requiring their service, we have never donated cash to a relief cause. A cruel, greedy and uncaring monster in the above opinion.

However, many of our employees are members of an Air National Guard rescue unit a few miles up 101, and every time they have been called up we have gone above and beyond to make it an easy choice for them to serve. Ours and countless other IT companies have paid the guardsman's full salaries, continued their benefits, given them unlimited leave days, and all the while losing all of their productivity to us. Some for up to a YEAR!

We may not have cut a dime in checks to Haiti relief; Hurricanes Gustav, Ike and Katrina relief; Southern California wildfire relief; Florida fire relief; tsunami victim relief; mudslide evacuees; flood victims or (insert disaster name here) but have contributed to the relief efforts in a meaningful way.

Giving to disaster relief efforts is not limited to writing a check, and not writing checks should not label a corporation with any of the disparaging adjectives above.  

Thank you.

Feb 8, 2010 7:24 PM Don Tennant Don Tennant  says: in response to tonixtonix

I'm not sure how you got the impression that what I was saying was all about writing checks when what I was calling for was a mechanism to help IT people serve. I mentioned the BDPA site as an example of an organization that was doing something by facilitating contributions, but I thought it was pretty clear that the thrust of the post was a call for action, not necessarily check writing. Support of Guard and Reserve units is a terrific thing, and I should have made that explicit in my post. Thanks for pointing it out, thanks to your colleagues who serve, and thanks to you and the rest of your colleagues who support and enable their service.


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