ICT for Health (Education)

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Katrina and Evolving Uses of ICT

ICT certainly played an important role in the Hurricane Katrina planning, recovery, and to some extent failures (though many of the failures were do to policy and management issues).

Doctors using websites to find out how to volunteer ... people using SMS to find loved ones when voice calls couldn't go through ... craigslist (CL) listing free services and free housing for hurricane victims from across the country... and CL as a place to post queries about loved ones, hundreds of posts per day ... authorities using radio broadcast to relay information to people still in their homes (questionable considering the number of people who would have still had access to radio).

From one CL post:
With all the confusion caused by the storm there is no guarantee that all messages will go through, but many people have made contact this week using SMS text messages when they had no other way to contact friends and relatives.

Ham radio was used:
Arkansas ham radio operators are monitoring transmissions from areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, sometimes chiming in to aid in communication .... When Hurricane Katrina knocked over cell phone towers and utility lines, ham radio became the best way to go, Temple said .... Ham radio operators helped communications between Louisiana hospitals needing help and Arkansas aid workers who were unable to get in touch with them, Temple said.

From an XM Satellite Radio press release:
The American Red Cross and XM Satellite Radio have joined forces to launch Red Cross Radio, a 24-hour, nationwide XM channel to provide help and information for Hurricane Katrina victims, Red Cross staff and volunteers along the Gulf Coast, and other Red Cross workers across the country. The newly-created Red Cross Radio (XM Channel 248) is broadcasting on XM Satellite Radio from coast to coast. It can be heard on all XM radios for the car, home, and portable use. XM is donating radios to the Red Cross for relief workers and aid stations.

A Cingular initiative in Tennessee/Kentucky:
Text Messaging Campaign Through the SMS capability on its handsets and PDAs, many Cingular customers are being contacted and asked if they would be interested in making a contribution to the American Red Cross' hurricane relief efforts.

Alltell announced:
The company is providing free nationwide roaming, long-distance and text messaging over the next two months to customers in the New Orleans, Biloxi and Gulfport, Miss., areas. Customers also will not incur any overage charges during that time period. Alltel is providing 250 anytime minutes to prepaid customers in these areas. Prepaid customers also will receive free text messaging and no overage charges over the next month. Alltel will continue to evaluate providing additional assistance to customers. In addition, hurricane evacuees and their loved ones can make free phone calls from Alltel stores to anywhere in the country during normal business hours. Customers also can recharge wireless phone batteries and receive assistance with damaged handsets and accessories. For evacuees at the Houston Astrodome, Alltel sent 60,000 minutes worth of free long-distance calling cards.

Other providers wanted to distribute physical prepaid cards, but as one CL contributor pointed out, this would inevitably lead to the creation of a black market. A black market isn't inherently a bad thing, but coercion in exchange of goods, and goods never reaching a segment of the population that needs them is a bad thing.

Other SMS uses: school closing notifications and Verizon text donations.

Beyond this, the media coverage - and the blogging about it - made the government more immediately accountable. e.g. - Mayor Ray Nagin's radio interview via telephone that then was posted to the Web, and Kanye West's candid remarks about the lack of reponse ("America is set up to help the poor, the black people, the less well off as slow as possible. Red Cross is doing everything they can .... George Bush doesn't care about black people").

Many more as well, but it was interesting to see people innovate different uses of existing technology in the wake of this terrible tragedy (I am omitting as best I can my commentary that this was largely *not* a natural disaster).

Can all of this somehow help us plan for future disaster response?

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