- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2001


Like so many people far removed from the Beltway, I thought at first it was some weird joke. My wife shook me awake, saying a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, and that it was on television. Then the second plane crashed. Then the Pentagon was a target. It was a joke no more.

You've seen the stories, by now, how technology played differing roles in this tragic crisis: the cell-phone calls from pundit Barbara K. Olson, publicist Mark Bingham and others on different airplanes, informing spouses and mothers of what was happening, offering clues and evidence to authorities. How the Internet is being used to inform people of who survived and who perished as well as a way for people to contact each other and share their grief.

Particular credit should go, in my view, to the many Webmasters, at this newspaper and elsewhere, who worked doggedly to update news sites and get information out. Some sites were hopelessly besieged in the early hours of the crisis; these came back online, in some cases with "stripped down" versions for easier loading. The White House, also, is to be credited with putting text and video of the president's remarks online for people to access.

Beyond these details, however, I believe the incidents of the past week are instructive about the role of modern technology and how it may be used to augment preparations against a recurrence of this horror. It's a safe assumption that others may try to inflict their own brand of hatred on innocent people here in the days to come.

Some lessons, then:

• Electronic document storage is crucial. In report after report concerning the New York tragedy, I heard how this or that paper, file, document, resume or whatever was blown away in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. Clearly, oceans of information and documentation will be lost. The question is how much was scanned into an electronic format, which could be stored off-site?

In Arlington, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has scanned in and stored records of land grants going back to the days of Abe Lincoln in fact, they did this 10 years ago. Such records, which can establish property rights and inheritances, are crucial, and I have to believe that backups can be found somewhere far from the former supermarket in Arlington that housed the BLM office.

But what about your corporate and personal documents? Are these scanned, stored and in a safe place?

• Rapid communications are essential. While wireless services in New York and Washington were overwhelmed by the tragedy, the fact that we had such available to us was an essential aid. How many people in your company in your family have the means and knowledge to use these devices effectively?

Similarly, the Internet, which was in its infancy during the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, has demonstrated its power and potential for healing, as much as for anything else. I believe the Net has come into its own as a global town square, and perhaps this will lead to a lessening of the suspicion and fear and hatred some people have for and about this country.

But even if that doesn't happen, the Internet will, in this new war, I believe, take the place of shortwave radio in the Cold War and earlier. With the exception of Afghanistan, which has cut the Internet off entirely, every other nation has some form of 'Net access. That access can let people reach Western Web sites "Internet Radio Liberty," let's call it where the truth is offered and lessons in democracy are taught. Will everyone on the Earth accept the message, or even look at it? I doubt that. But perhaps enough will respond to make the effort worthwhile. Given the generally low costs, however, it's worth trying.

• There's no substitute for preparedness. If and when the worst ever strikes, having backups of data is crucial. We've seen that with last week's horror. Are your computer files backed up and able to be retrieved from a distant location? If not, now is a good time to begin.

• Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to MarkKel@aol.com, or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back live to Mark every Thursday on www.adrenalineradio.com.from 8 to 9 p.m., Eastern time.

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