Please share this.
The USPS efforts in the wake of Katrina sounded pretty impressive during a CNN interview with Postmaster General John Potter so I went to the web site for more information. They’re making a great effort but the site information is barely penetrable. Next step: a phone call (not as easy as it sounds) to the media office; I heard back from someone within the hour — and I was glad I made the effort. Some key points:
- People are sending money and other materials to the Astrodome and other shelters addressed to "any survivor." USPS spokesman Bob Anderson said that is causing more problems, in part, because some organizations won’t accept it; also, I gather, because it adds volume. Instead, the USPS asks that donors give cash to the relief agencies, organizations, their religious institution — anywhere but through the mail to unknown recipients.
- Different shelters have different mail procedures. For instance, Mr. Potter mentioned giving people at the Astrodome individual P.O. boxes. That’s not the case for all evacuees or even for everyone there.
- If you are trying to reach someone via mail the best bet is to send it to their old address unless they have given you a specific new one.
- Survivors should make change of address requests ASAP even if they are only going to be somewhere for a few days. (The shelters should be able to provide the right address.) Electronic requests have the fastest turnaround — 24 hours and can be done for someone if they can’t reach a computer. Phone calls should be nearly as fast: 1-800-ASK-USPS (1-800-275-8777. The slightly slower standby: go to the nearest post office and fill out a form. The spokesman told me the rerouting starts as soon as the request is processed so anyone filing today could start to get mail in the next few days.
- The web site may be misleading to some in one important respect. Some forms of mail are not being accepted for delivery to certain zip codes but I have been assured that doesn’t apply to first-class mail.
I urged him to ask for a more accessible explanation online both for survivors and for those trying to reach them. He said he would try. BTW, I made it clear when I left the message that I was not calling for an established media outlet but for information to share online.
For anyone who doesn’t know how to tag or is still uncomfortable with it, Alexandra Samuel has written a tutorial for Katrina tags. She offers examples that can be used as templates and explains how you can use a service like del.icio.us to tag other people’s posts. Please make use of it and share it. Alex also has set it up as a wiki because she hopes "others will edit and improve."
Yahoo now has a Katrina missing-person search engine that draws results from multiple sites including its own message boards, ICRC, Craigslist, Gulf Coast News, NOLA.com, Public People Locator, MSNBC, Refugee Connect, Hurricane Help, Castpost Missing Persons, Operation Get-InTouch and CNN.
I knew this was in the works but wasn’t sure when it actually would be usable. A big thank you to the people at Yahoo who gave up their holiday to make it work.
|Yahoo: Search Katrina lists from across the Web|
I agree with Rex that rescue and survival are far more important than blame.
Rex: We’re all outraged. We’re all in shock and disbelief. We all want to blame someone. But can we at least have a national day of mourning before we commence with this national day of blaming.
Here’s my suggestion: Keep writing all your evidence-of-responsibility
posts but hold onto them for a few days. Use those days to help people
find loved ones and to figure out what you can do to help. Raise money
for relief causes. Figure out how your church or civic club or
neighborhood can re-settle an evacuee family. Then, after a week or so
(September 12th at the earliest) go ahead and start back flooding the
blogosphere with blame.)
Unfortunately, the longer it takes to figure out who did — or, more to the
point, didn’t — do what, the easier it seems to be to shift the blame. Why
does blame matter? It’s not as if anyone in charge is going to be charged or as
if it can change anything that happened in the past week. But it can — and
should — help us understand how not to let it happen again.
I hope that anyone collecting facts about the events leading up to Katrina and the subsequent chaos continues to do so. The invective, the politics, the anonymous fingerpointing — that can wait.
Evelyn Rodriguez lived through the Dec. 26 tsunami and understands communication and info needs from the survivor side. Most of what we are doing now is essentially for family and friends. Tens of thousands of survivors have no online access although efforts are underway to provide it as widely as possible.
In an emergency, think: Cheap. Simple. Ubiquitous.
Perhaps cellphone SMS messages that go directly to a central
wiki that is hosted by an large
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. I don’t
know if they have 911 in other countries. After the tsunami, people
(those on boats, and high ground) still had cellphones. But no one knew
who to call.
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.
Efforts are underway to harness the vast amount of information being generated about Hurricane Katrina. If you are hosting sites providing critical information, please tag according to your purpose so your site and posts can be identified — katrina and missing, safe, searching, housing, survivor, food, jobs, volunteer, donate, collect, links, photos, reference, etc. If you see sites that aren’t using tags, please encourage it — not everyone knows what tags are or how to use them — and/or link to them with the appropiate tags via sites like del.icio.us , furl , MyWeb2.0 Some blogging software converts categories to tags.
Watching the images of the Morial Convention Center raises memories of all the hours I’ve logged in that building over the years. Anyone who has been to a big convention there has seen or waited in the long lines for buses or cabs, walked miles and miles — at CTIA in March one sponsor gift was a pedometer — and been held hostage to the food services. Usually, at some point in every show there’s a moment when I think it’s hellish and I’m thrilled to escape; when it’s typical New Orleans weather, I’m relieved to go inside to the air-conditioned comfort.
Then I look back at the people who really are being held hostage to circumstances, who are stuck in a surreal version of those lines that makes the lamented 40-minute convention waits seem like a breeze. Superman comic readers will understand when I say it is Bizarro New Orleans.
It is familiar and completely unrecognizable all at once.