In 1992, I was a high school senior in Los Angeles … and my city was on fire.
It was April 29th.
I sat transfixed to the television as every channel showed the Los Angeles Riots spilling across the city. Like many others, I had seen the Rodney King video — and the trial which had just concluded had acquitted four LAPD officers of assault. The city had exploded in an orgy of violence, centered in South Central Los Angeles.
I distinctly remember watching the beating of Reginald Denny live on television, fascinated that a news helicopter over Florence and Normandy was broadcasting this man take a brick to the head…
During the days that followed, I was glued to the television even as the National Guard was called out and patrolled the streets of our suburb (protecting the large shopping mall about a mile away! Talk about critical infrastructure…)
My revelation was this: If I am sitting at home watching this on television, I am a passive spectator. I am not a part of the solution, I am a part of the problem.
I felt compelled to act.
A few months after the riots, I signed up with the Los Angeles chapter of the American Red Cross to be a mass care specialist with Disaster Services. My first job with the Red Cross was to be assigned to a small “canteen vehicle” and deliver coffee and snacks to disaster survivors and first responders. My first response was as a part of the Old Topanga fire in Malibu, CA in 1993.
And I kept going…
Small house fires. Crewing a shelter for evacuated residents due to a HAZMAT. The Northridge Earthquake. Floods in Santa Clara County. Manning a phone bank on 9/11 (my first caller was the mother of a woman who wanted to report her daughter missing – she’d worked on the 104th floor of 1WTC and as she gave me her daughter’s information, she paused and said “I guess she’s dead.”)
After 9/11 (and working in Silicon Valley), I switched my Red Cross function from Mass Care to this new area of Disaster Services Technology. I was a techie. I might as well bring those skills to bear. Hell, I was a network engineer. There’s got to be a use for a router in an emergency, right?
Tornadoes in Oklahoma City … Hurricane Katrina … fires in San Diego County…
I am lucky enough to work for a tech company that gives me the honor of deploying emergency networks to support disaster relief and other humanitarian efforts. Satellites? Sure. LTE? You bet. VoIP? Absolutely. Social media? I’m there.
Hurricane Ike … Haiti … Japan … Hurricane Sandy…
I live disaster. I love technology. I am an advocate for technology to empower people to get the right information at the right time to the right person. Bullshit and vaporware get people killed – welcome to the quest to separate fact from fiction, hype from reality, and bring tech down to the boots on the ground.
Hold on – the ride’s been pretty wild so far, and it’s going to get more intense.
You just need to turn on your television. But for crying out loud, don’t just sit there!