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A crisis management plan steeped in IT for this year's Boston Marathon

IT upgrades and social data mining better equip Boston Marathon organizers for their 118th year; plus, soft robotics and Microsoft's forced update.

There's a holiday approaching here in Boston, and no, we're not referring to Easter. The 118th Boston Marathon takes place on Patriot's Day, Monday, April 21, and between the hospitals' improved disaster ID logging system, the runners' high-tech gear, and the event organizers' heightened security, it may well be the most IT-enabled marathon in history.

During last year's tragedy, the first responders and hospital emergency staffs were widely praised for their work. But the hundreds of patients who arrived at area hospitals with no identification -- or were incorrectly identified -- highlighted defects in the electronic patient tracking systems used by the medical centers. A much-publicized and heartbreaking example of the flawed systems involved the relatives of marathon fatality Krystle Campbell. The family was initially told the 29-year-old had survived, only to later find out the woman taken alive to the hospital was Krystle's friend, mistakenly identified because she arrived there with Krystle's purse.

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Since last year, Boston hospitals have improved their standardized reporting processes during crisis and disaster times. This new single-page disaster record reporting system includes a checklist to capture specific aspects of the care dispensed and to record distinguishing features like hair color, tattoos and piercings. Keeping all of this data in one centralized location, where each hospital has access to it, is a model CIOs should consider when forming their disaster recovery and business continuity strategies for their organizations.

Another key aspect of effective crisis management is improved response time. Hospitals in Boston will be monitoring social media more closely this year, utilizing it as an early warning system since minutes matter in preparing trauma teams. CIOs and their IT teams interested in the role of social media in crisis situations should check out this Harvard Medical School report, Twitter as a Sentinel in Emergency Situations: Lessons from the Boston Marathon Explosions.

  • Social media information and mobile data is being harnessed to improve public safety in many areas besides medical crisis management. Law enforcement agencies are turning to social network theory and mobile data collection to gain insight into gang activity and other crime trends.
  • Last call: Users who have not installed Windows 8.1 Update 1 by May 13 will no longer receive security notifications about patches and flaws until they apply Update 1. Get to it, people!
  • Robots of the future will look less like a rigid R2D2, Terminator or Robert Downey Jr. in an Iron Man suit and more like a squid. Yes, robots of the future will more likely be soft than hard and will look like sea creatures, according to researchers in the soft robotics field.
  • Heartbleed revisited: A 19-year-old Canadian man is first to get caught exploiting the Heartbleed security bug to hack the country's tax agency. First of many arrests to come? We shall see.
  • Do you have extra cash to spend? Why not invest in a '90s relic? The Toshiba Satellite Pro laptop Bill Clinton used to send the first presidential email on November 7, 1998, is up for bidding, and the dollar amount is climbing up over $50,000.

In recent Searchlight columns:High-frequency trading exposed, and PII and data at risk with Heartbleed. Let us know what you think about the story; email Emily McLaughlin, associate site editor.

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