Knowledge Management and Tornadoes

A tornado near Anadarko, Oklahoma.

I’ll say it again: Knowledge Management is about people and their knowledge, and not about software or other IT.

A topical example of how important the knowledge that is held by people really is can be seen in the investigations now starting in the aftermath of the recent outbreak of killer tornadoes that ravaged Alabama and other states.

According to an article published by The Associated Press, “Detective Work Will Reveal Number, Power of Tornadoes” (published 4/30/11), the task of analyzing those killer storms is so vast that investigators are “calling fellow meteorologists out of retirement to help, hoping their decades of experience will provide an extra level of expertise.” The answers that the investigators hope to help to explain are how strong the storms were, and how the tornadoes themselves formed. The end result will be to include the final report as part of the National Climate Database as a “vast historical record of the nation’s most severe weather.”

What I find interesting is that despite multiple research centers and universities having accumulated data for decades and decades on all things tornadoes, when it comes time for analyzing the massive amount of data — actually making sense of it — that researchers will fall back on the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). Not to mention that despite all of the data available collected during the storm tracking, that they recognize that the most effective way to analyze the storm damage is to get those SMEs to the disaster site as quickly as possible so that they can directly assess the evidence while still fresh. And despite all of the technology available, the weather service still indicates that the single best way to confirm that there has been a tornado at a particular site was that a person saw the tornado.

Dr. Dan's Daily Dose:
Knowledge Management is all about people and their knowledge. Time and time again we see example of just how impossible it is to comprehensively capture a life-time, or career-time, of knowledge held by experts. KM efforts are well spent on sharing knowledge amongst experts and connecting those who have the knowledge with those who need the knowledge.
About Dr. Dan Kirsch