Electronic communications enhance international communication


Juan Lopez

Project Manager, Hillsborough County, Florida

Member, APWA International Affairs Committee


A few years ago, my secretary came to my office with a sad expression, looking like she had made a terrible mistake. In her hand was a fax that had been received and had been sitting in the fax machine for more than 12 hours. She felt she had failed her job because she had missed one of her most important objectives—to retrieve and deliver faxes every 30 minutes. As she was apologizing profusely, unable to explain why it had happened, I saw the heading on the fax and smiled. Vee, my secretary, did not think it was funny. After I explained to her that the fax was from a colleague in Australia, and that they were 12 hours ahead of us (not behind), we both had a laugh.


Today, the information revolution has made the fax machine a secondary mode of communication among international professionals. The most widely used mode of communication is the Electronic Mail (e-mail). This instantaneous mode of communication is inexpensive and faster compared to the fax machine. The cost of sending a fax is equivalent to the cost of a long distance telephone call. The transmissions sometimes are interrupted, and the bulkiness of sending all those pages makes it an ineffective way of communicating internationally.


On the other hand, most e-mails are sent at no additional cost to the service already installed in the personal computer. Attachments can be sent without creating additional bulkiness. Communication is established at the push of a “click.” No matter how far away the country may be, responses can be instantaneous. And, of course, one can always print the desired pages.


One of the most beneficial uses of e-mail has been the Group option, where someone from one country can send information to or request information from, simultaneously, several individuals throughout the world. During the last earthquake in Turkey, one of the members of the International Affairs Committee received a request for experts in the oil field firefighting industry. Apparently, the earthquake had caused an uncontrollable refinery fire in the City of Izmit. E-mails were sent to those professionals, and the response was tremendous.


Similarly, a member of APWA requested information about Disaster Recovery Techniques, and several of our friends from different areas of Australia (IPWEA) responded with the many lessons they had learned from the major hailstorms and cyclones they experienced in 1999. Their tragedies, vast damages, and cleanup efforts will help others throughout the world to better prepare for such occurrences. Group e-mails are constantly being sent between members of AMMAC, IPWEA, SPWA and APWA. These organizations from Mexico, Australia, and Slovakia, which are similar to APWA, are constantly exchanging educational, technical, and general information to benefit their membership.


Web pages and the Internet are another way to communicate internationally. Organizations and companies can share information and conduct marketing across the oceans. Information can now reach places that previously were hard to reach. People in Communist countries, who have access to computers, can now obtain information from the free world. To see the web sites of the above-mentioned AMMAC and IPWEA, two national organizations that have partnering agreements with APWA, go to www.ammac.org.mx and www.ipwea.org.au.


Satellite videoconferences, Geographical Information Services (GIS) and Global Positioning System (GPS) have also proven to be valuable sources of communication. These sources have not only been used for conferences and educational training across the borders, but also to locate project sites or places of interest in the world. AMMAC has committed to downlink one of APWA’s upcoming live videoconferences for their members.


Although it is now possible to leave voice messages through the computer, the technological world has yet to come up with a substitute for the telephone. Whether it is a regular telephone or a cellular phone, actual verbal communication remains the most desirable means of communicating. Nothing can replace the instantaneous exchange of ideas, inflections, and feelings expressed in telecommunication.


So, don’t discard your telephone yet.


Juan Lopez can be reached at (813) 272-5912 or lopezj@hillsboroughcounty.org.