Let’s be honest: The web, too, was not fully prepared for the disaster of Katrina. If we’d truly learned the lessons of the tsunami and even 9/11, there was more we could have done to be ready to help.
I would like to see us convene a meeting to bring together the best of the web — software, hardware, infrastructure, media, money — to start to gather around needs and solutions. Maybe these should be a series of Meetups. Or why not convene a session around Web 2.0?
Call this Recovery 2.0.
The goal is to be ready — God help us — for the next disaster so people can better use the internet — via any device — to better:
1. share information,
2. report and act on calls for help,
3. coordinate relief,
4. connect the missing,
5. provide connections for such necessities as housing and jobs,
6. match charitable assets to needs,
7. get people connected to this and the world sooner.
There are many, many wonderful things happening, but they are happening — as is the want of the distributed web — everywhere: See the more-than-50 places where the missing from Katrina can be found and more are being built as we read. I just heard anchors on Fox start to read the names and descriptions of the missing but as good-hearted as that may be, with unknown thousands missing, it is frightfully inefficient. But Dave Winer points us to efforts to create an open standard for a People Finder XML structure, which we need. And we need better ways to make all this discoverable and searchable.
I’ll also say a lot about jobs and relocation in another below, for I believe that is a most urgent need for the Katrina survivors.
There are many other ways the web could be optimized to bring help where it is needed. And there are many other people who know much more about this than I do. And so I hope we find a way to come together for some discussion, a clear agenda, and then a lot of action.
INFORMATION: How can we use our tools to both gather and share information more effectively?
How can we use not just the web and the internet but also SMS and voice phones and other means to gather news both broadly and very locally? How can we organize it? How can we make it discoverable and searchable? How do we share it across various media?
How do we capture the intelligence of authorities, experts, and people living through the event? That could be in wikis with how-tos (e.g., escape plans) and with current information (e.g., who has certain supplies). That can be data brought together in a centralized manner, for example in data bases, and in a decentralized manner, for example with microformats.
With RSS and aggregators, how do we better feed current, dynamic information — news, alerts, and warnings, broad and targeted — in many media? How do we use tags and microformats to label information so it can be found via search? How do we teach people to do this?
How do we use OPML to maintain lists of resources, needs, and so on?
How do we use searc-engine optimization to get people to the information they need? (Note that my colleagues at About put up a separate, SEO’ed page on the lists of lists of the missing just so people could find the lists to then find each other.)
How do we distribute information by new means: text-to-speech-to-phones and SMS for those who cannot get online… voicemail… educating local media and authorities about online resources and communication so they can share information and needs…?
CONNECTIONS: This is the big one. There are so many ways that the internet could be used to make connections — from the missing, the homeless, the jobless to those who can help — but as we see in the example of the lists of the missing and the safe, this is where the distributed nature of the web can work against making connections. One solution is, of course, to rally around one repository per need — e.g., the Red Cross for every case of the missing — but the truth is that people will also go where they have a community; look at the missing boards at Nola.com and WWL TV in New Orleans.
So the better solution is to find a way to make these disparate, distributed pools of data (1) findable, (2) scrapable, and (3) searchable. How do we do that: better search, tags, microformats, manual effort?
This is necessary for:
* Helping family and friends find the missing.
* Connecting people in need with aid — e.g., MoveOn‘s and Craiglist‘s housing boards.
* Connecting people with jobs (again, more on that below).
* Connecting people with government information and services.
COORDINATION: People should be able to send up an alert of a need and those who can answer that need should be able to let others know that they are meeting it. I got an email (from someone who didn’t want his name used) suggesting open-source disaster coordination and management:
For instance the local and federal gov’t can make available all information they have before them regarding the levees (technical drawings, visuals, CAD drawings, assessments) and the entire world community in particular university researchers can peruse the same available data and contribute ideas and solutions. Likewise, the food, etc needs can be coordinated in a similar way. All charities can reference a single open source resource to find out what the needs are, the conditions on the ground and where to deliver. All of this can be a real-time WiKi. Why does the relief effort need to be closed protocol and proprietary. Instead of critiquing the elected officials, people can contribute solutions. Also, why don’t we have WiMax telephones that can quickly be deployed and work like walkie talkies for first responders. Open source government, coordination and management has potential and should be explored further: now’s the time.
It’s a new way to think of recovery, which still must be managed but which can be managed openly. What are the tools needed to do that? Yes, wikis. But what about infrastructure for authority, identity, and accountability so that a need is met by the right party? What about data entry and recovery from multiple media (e.g., phones)?
CONNECTIVITY: And, of course, all this is all worth less if you can’t get online or get connected somehow. See this effort to get 40 connected computers for the thousands in the Astrodome. See also this story about tech companies bringing machines and connectivity to the survivors.
Intel Corp., Microsoft Corp., Cisco Systems Inc., SBC Communications Inc., Dell Inc. and others are working with the Red Cross to build voice and data communications at hundreds of evacuation shelters, and link them together.
The equipment – including laptop computers and wireless access points – will help the relief agency track evacuees as well as help them find emergency funds and track lost relatives, said Intel spokeswoman Jennifer Greeson.
How can we get people in need connected to all the functionality and information above? Should more of us volunteer to go to shelters with our machines? How can we install wifi quickly?
How can volunteers do these tasks for people who aren’t online? Should there be some great virtual Skype phoneroom of volunteers to enter and retrieve data for people?
: Those are just my thoughts and the buckets I put them in. Others are working hard on all aspects of this with far more knowledge than I have. My suggestion is only that we need to bring together these people to at least coordinate standards and goals. I wish I knew how to do that. But I’d suggest that a first step is to meet and agree.
Just a few of the many people I know of who are working on various aspects of these opportunities: Doc Searls, Dave Winer, Kerry Dupont, Truth Laid Bear, Staci Kramer, Britt Blaser, Ethan Zuckerman, David Geilhufe, Andrew Rasiej (see “the internet is our emergency broadcast network”), Elizabeth Osder (of Yahoo), Donovan Janus (see TheKatrinaPortal), Hugh MacLeod, Craig Newmark, Alan Gutierrez (see ThinkNola), see the PeopleFinder volunteer page, About.com (where — full disclosure — I consult) and all the entities listed there… and so many more.
I just saw that Truth Laid Bear started a mailing list for people to share information on Katrina projects.
Who else? What else? How else?
In an emergency, think: Cheap. Simple. Ubiquitous.
Perhaps cellphone SMS messages that go directly to a central wiki that is hosted by an large easy-to-remember-even-if-I-never-imagined-I-would-be-in-a-major-disaster organization whether it is Red Cross or Google?
What would have been helpful in the tsunami was a central phone number everyone has memorized to call in case of emergencies.
These were lessons that should have been learned from the tsunami and before that from 9/11 and other times of crisis. We can’t change the events of the last week but if we do not learn from them and change the future, shame on us.
Our goal should be that come the next crisis, we are ready to help in ways never before possible.
: This is about more than just technology and disasters. This is about technology and society, about empowering the people to run their lives and about how we in the web community can come together to help do that.
Dave Winer wrote this yesterday as I was working on this post:
Watching Larry King, seeing how helpless people are at finding out the fate of family members, it’s pitiful that we information technologists have not marshalled the systems to distribute information about survivors of the aftermath of Katrina. Following up on Doc Searls’s War On Error concept… we ought to solve this problem as quickly as we can for Katrina and then deploy systems that make this work much better for future disasters. It’s 2005, we have mastered the technology, now let’s deploy it, with the intent of competence and success.
And the next day, Dave points to the People Finder spec referenced above. That’s action. That’s leadership. And that’s what this is really about.
As Doc said in his War on Error post that inspired much of what both Dave and I are saying here:
When the blaming stops and the fixing truly begins, we’ll need more than our government organizations to step forward. As citizens, and as groups of citizens, will need to do what government simply can’t do.
Yes, we need bureaucracies. But bureaucracies can’t imagine anything. Including predictable acts of God.
People, on the other hand, can.
In the War on Error, people will need to take the lead. Governments will need to follow or get out of the way.
There’s our charge.
: I just emailed John Battelle, who’s running Web 2.0. He said he’d try to find space and time for a meeting. Who’s there? Who thinks this is a good idea? What have I missed? Who wants to meet? Who wants to act?
LATER : I got email from someone saying that organization is an issue. Yes, it always is. Maybe what I really want is a wiki so everyone can know what everyone else is working on.
: MORE: Doc Searls has a great list of great ideas for taking action. Some of those relevant to this discussion:
* People Finder Format, the Katrina PeopleFinder Project (and more on the same).
* Instructive lessons in the Wall Street Journal from the 9/11 Report from Dan Henninger.
* Peggy Noonan on leaving open military bases (written just pre-Katrina). Her points make sense in a disaster recovery (rather than just post-terror) context….
* The left hand column on the Technorati’s Katrina page. Includes resources and first person reports, among other nuggets.
* WeblogsWorkfor small towns. From the people who bring you the Slidell Hurricane Damage Blog. Along with Seeking People and the Hurricane Katrina Help Page (a wiki).
* “A brilliant idea”from Stuart Henshall.
* Think New Orleans has a pile of interesting and useful links….
* What might Google do?
* safe.millennium.berkeley.edu. Lots of missing/found info and links….
: LATER STILL: Mark Cuban has lots of suggestions.
: Even Verizon is trying to make better use of 411 to connect survivors to the information they need.
: Just registered Recovery2.com and Recovery2.org.
: Fred Wilson says we don’t need a conference. No, of course, we don’t. What we need is a way for people to share ideas, needs, work, and especially standards and contact so that effort can come together when it should. Face-to-face meetings are merely a way to add to the discussion that should occur online.
Someone in the comments looked at this is one big system, impossible to build. I said that’s 1.0 thinking. This is about people doing what they do in a distributed way but just trying to get them to swarm together around standards, links, ideas, and so on. That’s 2.0.
: TUESDAY UPDATE: NZ Bear has the start of a list of projects underway.
Someone has volunteered to start a wiki for this and we’ll let you know as soon as there’s something to let you know.
: TUESDAY P.M. UPDATE: Before giving a very detailed timeline and list of lessons learned from the Peoplefinder project, Ethan Zuckerman says:
…I think we’re probably at Recovery 0.2a in software terms rather than 2.0 – we’re a long way away from a 1.0 response from the web community that we could all be happy with. I hope folks will take time to document the work they did to help out with Katrina, and that we’ll keep developing and refining these tools after the immediate need has passed.