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Technology washed away...

I back up my data using a hard-disk-drive array with built-in redundancy. HDDs eventually fail, so redundancy is a must if you want to save your data. One of the HDDs in the array failed, so I stopped by a local retailer to pick up a one-terabyte HDD (imagine saying that even five years ago).

He told me that his suppliers say the price of HDDs will go up 20-30% on delivery of new stock. The factories just north of Bangkok that manufacture Western Digital and Seagate drives have flooded.

This is first and foremost a story of human tragedy rather than technology: skilled workers producing high-tech products have seen their homes as well as workplaces flooded, and their livelihoods put on hold. A lot of finger-pointing in Thailand nowadays as flood-barriers are breached, industrial estates flood and the Chao Phya river swells.

But ironically, according to the Bangkok Post, technology could have been used to help mitigate the effects of this season's unprecedented rainfall.

"Thailand's worst floods in 50 years reflect the almost total failure of the government to realise how crucial modern technology is in flood control and water management," wrote reporter Suchit Leesa-nguansuk in the Post. "Technology veterans say the lack of a data collection system and inadequate weather forecasting are the main factors behind this historic crisis."

What technology, specifically? " Online interactive maps, geographical information systems, data integration and smartphone- and user-generated content can increase accuracy, update information and greatly facilitate water management for better decision-making," wrote Suchit. "Poramate Minsiri, founder of Thaiflood.com, said integration of flood information from various sources could result in better monitoring of water flow and volume, in turn leading to better water management."

Suchit wrote that Thaiflood.com in collaboration with Google used Google Earth Builder to analyze data on local flood conditions, and that Thaiflood.com also has an Android-based application that enables field volunteers to collect data and monitor flood levels while identifying locations through GPS technology via mobiles. Could 'crowdsourcing' via on-the-ground monitors with smartphones have helped the Thai government become aware--or even avert--disasters like the flooding of Nava Nakorn and Bang Pa-in Industrial Estates?

According to Suchit, Thai wind energy company Fatshore has developed a flood warning device prototype called Fatshore Scada to support Thaiflood.com projects--it monitors rainwater and river levels, transmitting the data to the government's flood control center electronically, and "the locally made system costs only tens of thousands of baht compared with millions for an import." Fatshore's Managing Director Chainarong Sukumprasertsri said the idea "was inspired by the US government's Citizen Weather Observation Program that collects weather data from the public. The more citizens contribute data to the central system, the more accurate the picture of the water situation nationwide." Also, Microsoft (Thailand) is working with local partner Ecartstudio on a location-based information system which will show "an overlay of flood-related information such as the population, relief efforts, evacuation centres and even parking areas for each location displayed on the map."

Did the Thai government ever consider using these resources, during a year when my sources in Bangkok told me it started raining heavily in March (typically the hot, dry season)? Has there been any concerted Thai government water-management effort during a time when it's clear that the global climate is changing, with floods and/or droughts manifesting at random?

Thailand's flood-management strategies (or lack thereof) have had global consequences. Another Bangkok Post story says: "California-based Western Digital, the world's largest hard-disk drive (HDD) maker, expects its exports from Thailand will decrease by 40% this year due to the severe flooding...the company estimates a two-month production halt and then another four to six months to resume full operations."

"Employing 40,000 workers, the Thai unit accounts for 60% of the parent company's worldwide HDD sales." Sadly, a mere 20-30% rise in HDD prices for Hong Kong customers is a pittance compared to the price paid by Thailand's workers and their export sector. With a slow-moving disaster like a six-month flooding situation, technology in the form of crowdsourcing and data collated from on-the-ground firms could help a tech-savvy government determine its water-management. Sadly, this year, it didn't happen.

The question now is: will the Thai government take action once the floods recede, and integrate these examples of on-the-ground technology for next year's rainy season?

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