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Thoughts On The Houston Red Cross HQ.

I just returned home from volunteering at the Houston Red Cross battle station.

Just a few quick notes and thoughts.

First, the information revolution has not yet reached the Red Cross. No volunteer has a computer. Few would even know what do with a computer if they had one. I brought my laptop and grabbed the WiFi network coming from a nearby building. Why did I need a computer, you ask?

Well, because most of the people calling the Houston Red Cross are seeking their relatives or friends. They just want to know where they are. This is a diaspora the likes our country has not seen in generations. And nobody knows where anyone else is. The Red Cross has this website, and there is NOLA.com, and craigslist.com, and so on. But few have internet access. Just the process of processing everyone and providing a unified database for family and friends to know people are safe is going to take many days. The next step will be to process people, get them longer-term shelter, and so on. America is opening its heart. And there are websites galore devoted to that. There's KatrinaHome.com, KatrinaHousing.org, and Operation: Share Your Home.

The volunteering process, where I was, was interesting, because we were the information warriors. But the information with which people were fighting was lacking. Photocopied packets of shelters and phone numbers and such.

I can just imagine a 21st-century response center. Everything would be linked up. Everyone would have a computer. And information would flow back and forth, in and out, up and down... instantaneously. Updating lists and addresses and phone numbers and everything else, so everyone is on the same page.

A Baptist church in Texas City apparently geared up with doctors and nurses and cots and so forth for 200 people. They had 2 people show up, and only by accident.

Because the information technology was just lacking.

Even just simple requests from callers for, say, the phone number of the Red Cross of San Antonio, or the Red Cross of Mississippi, were not answerable without the ole laptop and WiFi connection.

I was a multi-tasking maven. Every response center, whether it be government, or charity, or anything else, needs multi-tasking mavens with laptops and wireless internet.

Along with the stone age communications and technology weakening the response from the Red Cross is the kind of thing that hurts every bureaucracy. Airlines want to donate tickets through the Red Cross, but they can't get in touch with the appropriate top brass at the Red Cross. Meanwhile, the appropriate top brass at the Red Cross can't get in touch with the pertinent people at the airlines.

So many stories like this. Puzzles. Unnecessary puzzles. Unforeseen puzzles. Unavoidable puzzles. But puzzles.

The situation is so fluid, and there will be puzzles unsolved until the situation stabilizes. There has just been nothing like this, ever before, in our nation's history. It is just a staggering jigsaw puzzle, the size of Great Britain. But many of the pieces of the puzzle are hidden, and bent, and broken, and strewn across our country.

Now, there are a few steps in this thing, and people need to try their best not to get ahead of themselves. One foot in front of another.

First is to get people the basics. Food, clothing, shelter, medical treatment, and so on. This is ongoing. And it will be ongoing for quite some time.

Just the basics. For countless people.

Finding long-term housing, jobs, and so on, and rebuilding the Gulf Coast, will come later.

This is just an amazing logistical puzzle.

In New Orleans itself, and in the rest of the "Upper Gulf Coast," communications are down. Power is down. Homes are destroyed. Transportation infrastructure is badly damaged. This is simply staggering, this entire deal.

The good news: lots of people want to volunteer, lots of people want to give money and clothes and food and other supplies, lots of people want to open their homes and their churches, and lots of people want to help in a variety of other ways.

If you can, give of your time, of your money... just do something. And shut your traps if you're not going to contribute something positive to the situation.

A lot of other interesting stories from tonight, and ideas bouncing around my head, but I am just beat.

Posted by Will Franklin · 4 September 2005 03:16 AM


Good for you Will. Doesn't it feel good to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem?

We will forgive you for looting a little wifi . . .

Posted by: Am I A Pundit Now? at September 4, 2005 03:33 AM

I see one silver lining. My guess is that after this experience the US will become the most up-to-date place in history when it comes to mopping up messes after a disaster.

Thanks for the update and your excellent blog.

Posted by: Hootsbuddy at September 4, 2005 05:01 AM

Something positive will happen out of all this mess! I am really thankful you are volunteering. It seems like when you are involved in things of an urgent or important nature great things happen! It is your gift...

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at September 4, 2005 07:21 AM

It would be cool if Bill Gates would donate some computers to the Red Cross!...This is an emergency of unbelievable proportion! I urge everyone to do anything at all possible no matter how small. Americans are reaching out and pouring out their rescources and prayers!...Positive instead of negative will be of greater help than any of us will know!

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at September 4, 2005 09:27 AM

I volunteered here in Austin at the Red Cross Disaster Response Center, and all we were doing was packing laptops, radios, satellite phones, cell phones, etc. They said they were trying to get them out all next week. They also had a bunch of people working in a data center activating pre-loaded credit cards that the Red Cross gives out to disaster victims.

I think the communications gear and stuff is coming, but like everything it is going to take a little time, which is sad. Supposedly, Red Cross people on the scene have better communications capabilities right now than the LA State Police, and those capabilities will only get better.

Posted by: Ian Pittman at September 4, 2005 02:39 PM

Great, Ian.

Good news, I guess.

Posted by: Will Franklin at September 4, 2005 03:48 PM

Yay!...That is great news!!!

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at September 5, 2005 07:57 PM