The Lost City of New Orleans

This article makes me cry. My best hopes and wishes may be worthless as I sit here typing on a laptop in a cafe in California, thousands of miles away from what was once New Orleans, but I hope and wish them anyway. If anybody can point me at something a programmer with tons of web app development experience can do to help, I’m all ears, my contact info is on my wiki. My bandwidth, disk space and monetary funds are tapped out, but I’ve got technical expertise and don’t want to look back on this moment and know I did nothing.

Stephanie’s perspective

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6 thoughts on “The Lost City of New Orleans

  1. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and have concluded that for many aspects of the most recent disaster (and similar things: Tsunami, 9/11) that it is hard to find a way to apply technical and knowledge to them. The old: “No one checks their email while the building is on fire”.

    However, in the area of communications and helping people find one another (to determine their whereabouts and if they are safe) there seems to be some huge friggin holes.

    A couple observations:

    1. In 9/11, Katrina, and the Tsunami, the only info means to even shakily remain standing was SMS over the cell network.

    1. After 9/11 and Katrina, multiple websites have sprung up to help find family members:

    2. It’s almost sickening that we have any number of web services to match people with people based upon their favorite pets or colors, but can’t seem to get it together enough to help families find one another in a disaster.

    So, that’s my suggestion what you and I, and everyone other techie sitting at home feeling powerless to help those suffering in New Orleans could do. We could build a massive reusable website to match those displaced with those searching for them.

    It would need to have SMS in (to let people update their status), some method of pulling in info (even volunteers manually entering data from other missing persons sites) and a search function for families and friends to find those that they cared about.

    It’s probably too late to help those messed up by Katrina, but not too late to help everyone who will be caught in the next earthquake, massive wildfire, tsunami, or terrorist attack.

    What do you think?

    -Mike Buckbee 330.329.8016

  2. mike, that sounds like a great idea but you have to remember that the web only reaches a certain percentage of people the poor don’t have access to the internet, cell phones, or anything involving much technology beyond analog phonelines or 5 cent xerox copies the people who need the most amount of help are left floundering because their outreach is limited it’s a worthwhile notion to create an online database of those who are missing or dead, and i hope that it can be done, but even with the combined powers of the internet’s most brilliant coding minds, 0’s and 1’s have little impact on the tens-of-thousands of displaced people with no access to the web.

  3. A tool that I think would be terribly useful for this effort and others is one that would facilitate scheduling of volunteers. The idea is that there’s an absurdly simple public interface where users can volunteer for shifts on days. A quick spec is as follows:

    • Calendar showing entire date range for project/effort (multiple small calendars for multiple months, maybe)
    • Global shift selection control (select box listing, eg, 8am-noon, noon – 4pm, 4pm – 8pm and so on)
    • Set global shift selection control b/c most people will be available consistently for a given shift
    • Once that’s set, you just go through and click days you’re available
    • If you hover, you get a detail popup that allows you to override the default shift, maybe mark your availability tentative, etc.
    • Before you get to this page, you register with email, phone, and name.

    On the back end, there’s the ability to create projects, create shifts, view volunteers, and see gaps in your volunteer coverage (and look for tentative volunteers to fill them). There’d also need to be a way for admins to manually assign shifts. For the most part, this’d be all automated. That is, once somebody signs up for shifts, the system looks for available slots they’ve volunteered for and sticks them in reasonable slots (the algorithm would need to schedule them on non-consecutive days, for example, or maybe what’s reasonable is determined by params set by the admin), notifying both the admin for the project and the volunteer.

    I’d build this myself but I’m out volunteering to help out at shelters that are being set up in my town to accept evacuees.

  4. I feel almost exactly as you do, Andy. Sad. Angry. Helpless.

    I believe it’s time a lot of Americans take a moment to pull back from this event and consider the larger picture of where the country is at. This article goes well beyond what I’m trying to convey to you and your readers but it’s the right direction. It’s like a giant, crazy puzzle and I have little to offer except maybe thank goodness you have the right to bear arms.

  5. One thing I think will be helpful in the future is for every household to have a P2P sort of backup house plan in the case of disaster. I was thinking in the days after Katrina (when not getting po’d at the incompetent mayor of NOLA) that what we need is a system where one family can have some place else to go other than government shelters. Perhaps we can talk about this at SuperHappyDevHouse – but in short, here is the concept:

    The System will connect households with each other voluntarily so that they may serve as temporary shelter for each other in the event of a disaster. Households create connections with other households 10, 25, 50, 100 and 500 miles apart. In the event of disaster (like Katrina), those affected have pre-arranged places to stay that are outside the disaster zone. A given household registers itself with some basic profile info (who is in the house, type of house, accomodations etc..) They offer to house another Household that meets certain criteria (married/divorced/same sex partnership, # of kids etc…) The system delivers potential ‘matches’ and the heads of each household review them, talk with each other and determine if they are compatible. If they are compatible, they committ to each other to provide a place to stay in the event of disaster.

    Shortly after coming up with this basic idea I saw that people were offering up places to stay all over Craigslist and on other sites, message boards etc… so plenty of people have validated the premise already. My girlfriend said it reminded her of the “Sister Cities” program, but for families. I think it is just a ‘brotherly’ sort of idea that should be a part of everyone’s emergency planning.

    While it wont help immediately, it is something that could be useful in any number of situations in the future. It is also something that need not hit at the core of your personal bandwidth immediately. Any thoughts?

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