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

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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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