Memorial Day 2013

Today, I read a message from Congressman Mike Honda in which he honored our fallen heroes.  He also told of how he and his mother were incarcerated during WWII while his father served our nation in the Military Intelligence Service.

I also have a personal story to share.  My father was a combat veteran who proudly served in three wars – WWII, Korea and Viet Nam.  As an African-American, he was treated better in foreign countries than in the country for which he fought.  He lived in foxholes, watched his friends die on D-Day, lost half of his index finger and took a round in his shoulder during battles for a nation that made him sit in the back of the bus or in the Negro section of restaurants if they served him at all.

He was medivac’d (medical evacuation) out of Viet Nam after being operated on in a MASH (mobile Army surgical hospital) and returned to a nation where people spit on him because they didn’t believe in the war.

CIMG0427What kind of person can put the needs of the nation first even when that nation is not treating them fairly?  What are these people made of that makes them able to see the value and purpose of their sacrifices so much more clearly than those they protect?  Somehow they see the larger purpose, the longer vision, the ‘on-going mission of America – to live as one nation…’ as Congressman Honda puts it, and it is worth the sacrifice.

So today, we as a nation say thank you to our fallen heroes and to their families.  Thank you for our freedom.

Trends in Technology that Emergency Planners should consider

There are a couple of noteworthy technology items that could affect your emergency planning.

First, there’s a trend of younger people (teens) away from Facebook and towards Twitter.  If the trend continues, it will be more important to have emergency messages going out on Twitter feeds than on Facebook pages.  This is just a heads up that if faced with a decision on how to spend your Emergency Planning budget, Twitter looks like the mechanism that will be the better choice to reach the teen-age demographic.   Please pass this along to your Schools Liaisons, Community Center Managers or others who will need to communicate with teens during a disaster.  See the article below.

Second, there’s a trend of young people (twenty- to thirty-yr-olds) to move to Tumblr as their choice of blogging tools.  It’s also a very good tool for sharing images which could be very useful for confirming/assessing damage and controlling rumors during a disaster.  The demographic is one of the reasons Tumblr was purchased by Yahoo.  This would be useful for CERT teams and others trained to perform Damage Assessment or Light Search and Rescue during an emergency.  See the article below.

Third, an 18-yr-old from Saratoga, CA has won an award for developing a super-capacitor which is tech-speak for ‘battery’.  The cool thing is that it charges in 20-30 seconds.  What does that mean in terms of emergency management?  It means that power for radios, cell phones, etc is becoming a non-issue (or less of an issue).  The logical next step would be to put the technology to use in larger ‘charging stations’ which would allow people to charge up as they walk by.  Connecting the dots even further…remember the article about the Serval Project where cell phones create a meshed communications network using wi-fi instead of cell towers (see  If we can keep the cell phones charged, we won’t need to depend on cell towers in emergencies (in densely populated areas anyway). Well, we can now keep the cell phones charged so going forward we may need less emphasis on backup communication methods/devices.  Fewer different device types could mean we’ll see a savings in training, maintenance and repair costs.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating:  The rate of change for technology is accelerating.  The changes make it easier for us to execute, but in order to remain effective our emergency plans, the training of ourselves and our teams will have to keep up.

2012 Volunteer of the Year Award for the City of San Jose

Each year, the Santa Clara County Emergency Managers Association honors individuals who volunteer their time to serve the communities in which they live.  I was pleasantly surprised when Chris Godley, the Director of the Office of Emergency Services for the City of San Jose (CA), told me that I’d been nominated to receive this award.

The awards banquet was held on Dec 20, 2012 at the Three Flames Restaurant in San Jose, CA.  Each volunteer was introduced by his or her city’s Emergency Manager and as I listened to the introductions what impressed me was the scope of everyone’s contributions.  No task was too small or unimportant and conversely, no project was too large and daunting to be taken on.  In some cases, volunteers had special skills that the agency needed but didn’t have; in other cases volunteers performed routine duties and in doing so freed up someone else’s time to do other work.

I also took a moment to reflect on why I like volunteering:

  • I can set my own schedule
  • I get to choose what projects I work on
  • I have the freedom to use all my skills and knowledge
  • I have the opportunity to learn new skills and gain more knowledge
  • I have the chance to make a difference
  • I’m appreciated for the work that I do

I feel very honored to be the recipient of the 2012 Volunteer of the Year for the City of San Jose.  It’s been a very rewarding experience and I have no plans to slow down in 2013.  If you’ve ever considered becoming a volunteer, I’d encourage you to give it a try.


Re-designing the Electronic Medical Record

Friday, Dec 7, 2012 – A few weeks ago, a friend and colleague approached me about entering a Challenge being sponsored by the White House.  The purpose of the Challenge was to re-design the electronic medical record currently being used by over 6 million patients receiving care through the Veterans’ Administration.  The medical records are difficult to interpret and the goal was to make it easier for Veterans to access and understand their medical history.

My friend sent me the link to the Challenge in an email that simply said “Interested?”  Two weeks later our team had grown to four people and after working night after night until the wee hours of the morning, we submitted our design.

Each of us wrote a short biography and described what motivated us to enter this Challenge.  The common thread was respect for our Veterans and the desire to improve their care.  For two of us, it was personal; my friend’s uncle was killed in the Korean War and his remains were only recently recovered.  My father was a soldier for over 29 years and fought in WWII, Korea and Viet Nam. We each wanted to give a little of ourselves to make a small improvement, a positive change to the lives of the women and men of the US Armed Forces who have ‘paid it forward’.

The designs are being reviewed by a panel of judges this week and they’ll announce a winner on Dec 12, 2012.  Wish us luck, but regardless who wins the Challenge we believe our Veterans will benefit from the results and that’s what it’s really all about.

Nakama Photos Featured on VTA/BART Website

Monday, Nov 26, 2012 – Two of the aerial photographs taken by Nakama Enterprises in October 2012 are being featured on the VTA/BART website.  The photos show the current state of the Milpitas and Berryessa stations.  It’s going to be exciting to watch the progress as the stations are being built literally from the ground up.  Click the following link to view the photos; they’re captioned ‘Milpitas Station in Progress’ and ‘Berryessa Station in Progress’.

Red Cross Relief Efforts

Friday, Nov 2, 2012 – As of yesterday, the Red Cross was providing relief efforts in ten states to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy.  The Red Cross is staffed mainly by volunteers and is funded by donations from people like you and me.  I’ve been a volunteer with the Silicon Valley Chapter (San Jose, CA) for a little over a year now and my volunteer service has been at the local level – helping those displaced by house fires.  However, many chapter volunteers travel to disaster-affected areas and work there for 3 weeks at a time to care for people who may have lost everything in the disaster.  The care is not only for physical needs; food, shelter and clothing, but also for emotional support.

In the relief efforts for Hurricane Sandy, the Red Cross has already served over 100,000 snacks and meals, opened nearly 200 shelters and deployed two-thirds of their mobile kitchens.  Please help the Red Cross continue to help those in need and make a donation today.


Nakama Enterprises Delivers First Set of Aerial Photos of the VTA/BART Berryessa Extension Project

Wednesday, Oct 24, 2012 – Today, Nakama Enterprises delivered the first set of aerial photos for the VTA/BART Silicon Valley Berryessa Extension project.  The images were presented to the project’s prime contractor Skanska-Shimmick-Herzog Joint Venture (SSHJV) at their project headquarters in Milpitas, CA.  Key members of the project team reviewed the images with a great deal of interest and enthusiasm and Nakama received very positive feedback.

There’s an interesting side story here that has to do with the Upper Penitencia Creek.  The first image below taken from Google Maps, shows the area before construction on the project began.  The creek bed corresponds to the line of trees that runs alongside Berryessa Rd.

Upper Penitencia Creek prior to construction

The second image, which is one of ours, shows how things look today.  Notice the creek stops short of the track alignment and picks up again towards the left of the frame.  The creek is actually dammed on both sides and the water is being pumped from one side, across the construction zone into the other creek channel.  This diversion will remain in place until later in the project when the dams will be removed and the creek will flow into the new artificial creek bed (within the dashed green lines) being constructed.

Upper Penitencia Creek – Oct 2012

This preservation effort sends a message that SSHJV is committed to minimizing impacts to the environment whenever possible during the project.  That’s very cool.

CERT Application Solution Wins Code for Change 2012 Challenge

Friday, October 12, 2012 – A year ago, I didn’t know that “Challenges” existed.  Today, an idea that I submitted to a challenge just a couple of months ago has a working prototype and has taken the top prize!

The idea was inspired by the students in the CERT classes I was co-teaching in San Jose, CA in the spring of 2012.  With no resources to fund and develop the idea, I thought there was little chance of making the application a reality.

Fortunately for me I happened to meet Arthur Grau, manager of Innovation Leadership at Applications for Good.  A4G is a non-profit that brings together sponsors, developers and ideas for applications that benefit society. After an introductory phone call, I submitted the idea to the Code for Change Challenge and Arthur and I got to work.

My role was to define the problem, rally the local CERT teams and Emergency Managers and answer whatever questions might arise.  Arthur managed everything else including all the details of what was happening in New York.  He convinced Meagan Van Harte, a senior Program Manager in the NYC Office of Emergency Management to represent the idea in person at the Challenge.  Meagan did an excellent job and as a result attracted a very talented team of developers.  Once formed, the team was able to create a prototype in two weeks!  Amazing!

The judging took place on Friday, Oct 12, 2012 and our team won the Grand Prize based on the following 4 criteria:

  • Potential Impact on target audience
  • Feasibility to implement
  • Usability
  • Originality

We won free workspace for 6 months, a web design audit, lunch with venture capital mentors and $8,000.  In other words, we received enough resources to keep the project growing.

To view the project’s current status, visit the CERT Application Project.

Using Technology to Lose Customers – Live Chats

Most companies understand how important it is to have an online presence.  Everyone has seen the data or heard how customers shop for products and services on the internet.  Technology, whether it’s a company website, Facebook or LinkedIn page or a tool to help manage customer information, can help companies reach more potential customers even faster than before.  Many businesses will use these tools successfully, but some will only succeed in causing damage to themselves. Continue reading

Nakama Enterprises Wins VTA/BART Berryessa Project Aerial Photo Contract

Sept 17, 2012 – Nakama Enterprises was recently awarded the Aerial Photography contract for the VTA/BART Berryessa Extension Project.  This is a multi-year project scheduled to run until early 2016.  Notification was made last Thursday by a representative from Skanska-Shimmick-Herzog, the project’s prime contractor.  “We believe this project is good for the long-term economic growth and the environmental health of the Silicon Valley” said Nakama Enterprises CEO, Annette Maxwell, “and we’re thrilled to be a part of it”.