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"Conversation. What is it? A Mystery! It's the art of never seeming bored, of touching everything with interest, of pleasing with trifles, of being fascinating with nothing at all. How do we define this lively darting about with words, of hitting them back and forth, this sort of brief smile of ideas which should be conversation?" Guy de Maupassant

Saturday, September 3, 2005

The KatrinaHelp team is really doing some good work on building a resource for news, aid and relief for those affected by Hurricane Katrina. I spent the day today giving back, first because the disaster makes me sad, and secondly, I feel such a close part of the community that so selflessly gave to build the tsunamihelp resource, many of whom are now active in this effort too. Some of the activities I observed that are going on :

Links to the wiki and blog sites (thanks Peter for compiling them) :

KatrinaHelp Wiki

KatrinaHelp Wiki Mirror site

Post a request on the blog
Make a suggestion to the KatrinaHelp team

Inside KatrinaHelp Wiki
Helpline Numbers
Recovery Relocation Advice
Health and Safety Info
Missing and Found
Help Needed
Help Offered
Aid Agencies

News Resources
Interactive Maps
Image Galleries
List of Blogs

Other Wikis
Wikipedia's Katrina page
Wikimedia Commons Katrina page

Blog Aggregators

Katrina Help 1
Katrina Help 2
Katrina Help 3
Truth Laid Bear

(Did I remember to mention that there's also a blog? See http://katrinahelp.blogspot.com/. Or subscribe to the Feedburner or Atom feeds)

The other effort I got drawn into, apart from editing the wiki, was the setting up of SkypeOut and SkypeIn accounts to connect the team with those on the ground. So that real-time information flows are enabled. I suspect a first really. The team was working with Saturn ham radio operators to queue and relay calls for help from around Tulane, and with volunteers in ER and other Emergency services. There volunteers on the ground are connecting with those who need help. And relaying requests for help. Also, we are getting messages for help and we relay these messages back to volunteers on the ground. Using SkypeIn, SkypeOut and sms to Skype. This is being coordinated by Angelo, Rudi and AnnaLissa. Despite initial hitches, with too many of us logging into the system, and some of us using older versions of Skype .... the system works ... and we will take it on in shifts, logging in from Amsterdam, USA, Bahrain and India to cover a 24 hour day.

And our first success there, as Angelo reports:

"Just put a call thru to LA. Might be our first semi-success story. The family was safe, lines are opened at 602 range is not down anylonger - just her son missing, called back original sender to email, copied KatrinaHelp group and she (Connie) was overwhelmed!"

SkypeJournal was really helpful with this ... first by listening to our needs, then advising us on how we go about it, blogging our story and setting out a broader vision, and finally by holding our hand through the setup. And Jaanus at Skype jumped in when he read their post on our needs, offering up free SkypeOut minutes. Connectotel's Marcus Williamson is setting up a Skype-to-SMS bridge for KatrinaHelp too.

Rudi, who is one of those leading this effort, had a chat with me and shared his larger vision for a sustainable community system:

"Its about accountability and empowerment at the community level. We are demonstrating how to be transparent and trying to pull together the infrastructure and support systems that we feel our government was too slow on. We are trying to speed up response and avoid a disgraceful and preventible loss of human life by using communication technology to raise awareness compassion and understanding. It was much faster to set up this time compared to tsunami. Everybody more or less replicated the basic idea, with some processes streamlined.

But we still need some sort of DB support just like last time. Database is about where we get bogged down ... structure is difficult to impose. We need bandwidth, we need computers. I would like the effort to be fully financially self-sufficient, then it would be isolated from my own personal finances and a lot more stable for future years."

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