What can we do? Many people are already on their way as volunteers but, as in December, for now the most significant gesture most of us can make is a cash donation. (Some options: American Red Cross; Salvation Army; United Way; United Jewish Federation; Catholic Charities.) Leave it to the agencies to provide food, clothes and other supplies.
Another immediate need: information and information management. Communications are completely cut off in some areas; it's a crazy quilt in others. People who have information to share may not have a place to share it; those who need it may not know where to look. Some are going to Craigslist. Many bloggers are doing a great job but often on the most micro of levels and not always easy to find. The Times-Picayune and other media in the hurricane's path have done an amazing job but many of them are in the same straits as the people they are covering. People will need jobs, places to stay, information about their homes, ways to share.
Philip Katner wrote me today to ask for help reaching Google with a request; he heard from a mutual acquaintance that I knew a senior engineer there. The native New Orleanian is trying to do anything he can think of from Washington D.C. that will help his parents, five siblings, friends and the extended, now far-flung New Orleans community. Some excerpts from our exchange:
Please help, if you can. ... Communication is direly needed for evacuees as well as emergency personnel and they could tie it to their maps, with flood levels, body counts, trapped individuals etc. If there's anyway you can help everyone from NO would be most grateful. The best websites are extremely limited: nola.com and wwltv.com. Thousands of us can't locate relatives, friends, basic information on our homes, etc. The "504" exchange is all but dead, as is Biloxi and now Baton Rouge's. Anything that Google could provide would be helpful. More than just the news link they currently provide.
My family (4 of 5 siblings accounted for) and my folks are spread out across several states, in hotels and friends houses. Though most had "504" cell phone exchanges, they're all but unusable. Several don't even have electricity. People have started using Craigslist.com to post lost & found for family members. People are giving out their addresses, telephone numbers, anything in hopes others will find them. New Orleans has always been impoverished and many families are close-knit, never moved away from home ... so once evacuated will have no where to go where they'll know people.
Each of the neighborhoods in NO is distinct, at varying levels of height relative to sea-level. Most people identify with their neighborhoods. Having maps they could click on to exchange information would be an incredible gift, wonderfully intuitive and would also help link up lost people to possible neighbors, friends and family members. Many of the more informative blogs are just thousands and thousands of messages that are organized by Parishes. ... My sister and I, with access to cell phones and email and web and cable TV having been coordinating communications through numerous friends and family members and work colleagues... but it's extremely primitive."
Taking Philip's idea beyond Google
alone, what if the sites making a push in local search applied some of
those resources to New Orleans and other ares battered by the
hurricane? Instead of pointing to restaurants and business that no
longer exist, provide zip-code information centers incorporating data,
maps and photos from FEMA, the Corps of Engineers and other resources.
Create spaces for people to meet online -- and publicize it. Create an
uber-directory that pulls it all -- volunteer efforts and professional -- in one place. Work together to span
sites and portals.
Being local is easy when it's about the best place for dinner. Helping communities recover from disaster, now there's a test.