Gary Wolf wrote in the June issue of Wired about how smart mobs in New York’s World Trade Center outbrained the “authorities” and enjoyed higher survival rates because of it. Wolf is talking about the NIST report on Occupant Behavior, Egress, and Emergency Communications (warning: PDFs). There’s also this executive summary and this looks like a mind numbing PowerPoint presentation (also PDF). So, what about it?
For nearly four years – steadily, seriously, and with the unsentimental rigor for which we love them – civil engineers have been studying the destruction of the World Trade Center towers, sifting the tragedy for its lessons. And it turns out that one of the lessons is: Disobey authority. In a connected world, ordinary people often have access to better information than officials do.
Wolf talks about news coming in via cell phone and Blackberry, people making informed decisions that contradicted the authorities, and doing so calmly and efficiently.
We know that US borders are porous, that major targets are largely undefended, and that the multicolor threat alert scheme known affectionately as “the rainbow of doom” is a national joke. Anybody who has been paying attention probably suspects that if we rely on orders from above to protect us, we’ll be in terrible shape. But in a networked era, we have increasing opportunities to help ourselves. This is the real source of homeland security: not authoritarian schemes of surveillance and punishment, but multichannel networks of advice, information, and mutual aid.
As wolf says, “question authorities.”
Thanks to DefenseTech for the link.