Software Freedom Day NYC 2008

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Yesterday was Software Freedom Day, and I attended the celebration hosted by the Lime Group here in NYC. Also sponsoring the event was the Software Freedom Law Center. Thanks!

I went wearing my lovely new Fedora Ambassador shirt, and got lots of comments that folks loved the shirt, talked a little about Fedora with them, and I think did a fairly good job representing Fedora there.

One of the most interesting conversations that I had was with a gentleman from the New York City Office of Emergency Management, talking about an open source application within the city government, called Sahana. This application was initially developed after the Asian tsunami of 2004 to aid in disaster relief and coordination.

The city has modified the software to aid not in post-disaster relief, but rather pre-disaster preparedness. NYC is the city that is third-most at risk in the country for a catastrophic hurricane (after New Orleans and Miami). In the event of a hurricane, the city has 500 shelters designated, where 68,000 trained city workers would have to go in order to handle about 605,000 evacuees, and attend to their basic needs. This system helps to make sure that occurs, track the evacuees from the time that they enter the shelter to when they leave, and related functions. Upstream Sahana has a demo instance at demo.sahana.lk
The conversation also brought up the point of interoperability. Other agencies use proprietary software, sometimes multitudes of different packages, all of which have incompatible data formats. NYC is responsible for operating the shelters for 7 days - 2 days before a storm and 5 days after. After that, another agency comes in and takes over. The records for the evacuees, which already exist in an open electronic format in Sahana, cannot be consumed by the other agency. The records must be transferred ON PAPER.

This is an excellent example of where interoperability is key, and propietary systems have hindered it. It's really a sad state of affairs.

Then there were the speeches that came from the sponsors, Eben Moglen of SLFC made a very interesting comment that I have to quote here:

"In the words of Gandhi, first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. Insert a step between then they fight you and then you win - you get a holiday" :)

Happy belated Software Freedom Day everybody!

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