Special Remarks: Dr. Choi Soon-hong, Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations & 1st Chief IT Officer, at the Conference on Crisis Mapping at Tufts University.
Dr. Choi begins by explaining that late last year, a group of UN representatives and people from the ICT4Peace Foundation traveled together to discover the challenges faced by UN personnel in various countries. They met with representatives from government, military, police, NGOs, press, and UN organizations to discuss how they can manage if crisis hits.
“Only a few weeks later, a major earthquake hit Haiti, resulting in an unprecedented loss of life, colossal damage to infrastructure, and halted any efforts to move forward,” states Dr. Choi. He states that the UN headquarters was destroyed, and the leaders he had just met with were killed.
He wishes that, looking back, they’d been better able to help Haiti prepare for the earthquake. He also wishes that there were better methods for information sharing between all of the communities involved, so that response could be more effective.
“I wish more lives had been saved because of improved preparedness and ability to deal with the crisis,” remarks Dr. Choi, thanking the organizers for inviting him. “I can see your energy and passion, and I feel that this year’s conference will be a big success.”
Explaining that crisis response methods have improved greatly over the past few years, adapting to technologies, Dr. Choi notes that the crisis management landscape is also becoming more complicated, with the increasing level of activism and non-government involvement. “The UN’s Crisis Information Management strategy recognizes that the UN and its member states have a significant stake in preventing, mitigating, managing, and recovering from, crisis, whether natural or manmade.”
He notes that the strategy involves working with a variety of actors to better organize information. “I think we have to do better,” he says.
Dr. Choi states that our ability to talk to one another will help to build a better approach to managing information more effectively and to collaborate better in times of crisis. “My office, in collaboration with ICT4Peace, is currently leading this strategic effort,” he says. “We want to build a coalition.”
Ultimately, this approach will build better strategies for crisis management, explains Dr. Choi.
Dr. Choi explains that they will be developing four main areas: an information architecture program for disseminating information; a technology development program to equip organizations with a simple model that is simple, intuitive and interoperable; capacity building to create better human resources, with opportunities for training, simulation, and career building; and stakeholder management to increase support from a broad spectrum of stakeholders.
Dr. Choi believes that this would have far-reaching implications for the UN and for other organizations on the ground. He believes that it could lead to more effective decision-making and more timely reaching out to people on the ground. He also notes that it could contribute to better public communication and journalistic reporting, as well as better fundraising efforts.
“Working closely with non-UN actors and incorporating integrated strategies means other people, and the media can feed and use important real-time information,” states Dr. Choi. He hopes that this effort will improve the way we collect and disseminate real-time information during crises.
“How can we minimize false reporting?” asks Dr. Choi. “There is research on the way.”
He also states that, as a senior member of the UN, he is conscious of the role his organization can play in uniting various actors across society. He says that he is genuinely interested in learning more about the new ideas this conference symbolizes.
“Indeed the world of communication and information technology is in fast transition. It is increasingly obvious that this transition will have a strong impact on our future ability, however technology alone will not stop the problem we are facing. What also matters are human organizational factors,” Dr. Choi states.
He also highlights the importance of leadership and the willingness to cooperate with one another. The mission, he explains, is to manage crises better, thus the spirit of community amongst all of us is important. “We are not competing with each other,” says Dr. Choi. He hopes that we can leverage capacity through our ties with one another.
“Lastly, we need to increase public awareness and support, as well as financial resources from all sources toward this cause,” concludes Dr. Choi, “I think the UN can play an important role in increasingly legitimacy and bringing these parties together.”
Dr. Choi congratulates the organizers of the conference, thanking them for including him, and states that he is looking forward to seeing the successful outcome of the meeting.