Monday, September 19, 2005

Call home after disaster

I've noticed the one thing that seems to have not yet caught up with the 21st century, as it comes to picking ourselves up & dusting ourselves off after a disaster: communications. Personal, family communications.

Beyond all basic creature comforts, this is the thing which causes the greatest grief among the folks down Gulfward. They haven't been able to let everybody know they're okay.

I understand that, after something as huge as Katrina ploughs through, it's difficult to get those land lines up and running, and those land lines are what are required to relay between towers (which also have done been blowed over). But I can't help but think that the companies which are down there setting back up their communications systems ought to be able to, once they're hooked up with the basics, provide a data outlet tent to survivors at evacuee/cleanup population centers. If the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and whatnot can get a handful of generators and a bunch of phone lines going, why can't the communication companies do what Wal-Mart did with their warehouses, etc., and provide in-kind services for folks to contact family outside, to let them all know they're alive?

Wouldn't it be viewed as the decent thing for a broadband phone/internet company to set up a bunch of tents, each with its own generators and a handful of internet and webcam-equipped laptops or notebooks, so folks can come, have their pictures taken & posted along with a few of the basics about themselves. It shouldn't be too hard to design a spreadsheety thing to just have people fill in stuff like name, last known addy, and brief personal notes, so that others can quickly pull the info up & leave a trackback ping (or something like it) for them, to let the folks know the news got through.

I'm led to believe that blogs have already been a big help, but if there were to be a single, established data source for people to search for missing people, and for message accounts to be maintained (however briefly), it would give immense comfort to the folks who have gotten caught in the aftermath. The Truth Laid Bear did a huge amount of work toward setting out links, but it seems to me, it could be useful to have a single look-up address for everybody, via a less bureaucratic system than, say, the Gummint, or the Red Cross, or gods forbid they should have to depend upon the speedy United Way ("we'll get to you homeless folks after we've rebuilt our offices..."). Would Microsoft or some other software giant build a homepage for just this purpose? Would the phone companies & hardware people be willing to pitch in, to create "floating offices" with generators, computers, etc? Would the Red Cross, Nat'l Guard, & FEMA make room for these people at evacuation centers or other locations close to the people who need them? Maybe the MSM could sacrifice some bandwidth for this, too?

Has anybody else been looking into this?

Update: linkage added. duh. I really AM out of practice!

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