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Blogs and Information Community Respond to Hurricane Katrina
by
Posted On September 6, 2005
Hurricane Katrina, classified before landfall by NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) as a Force 5 storm (a ranking given only to the most powerful and destructive storms on Earth), unleashed 140 mph winds on Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and various Gulf Coast communities. The city of New Orleans was evacuated, with more than 20,000 people who couldn't leave in time taking shelter in the city's Superdome sports arena. Storm surges destroyed levees and brought walls of water into the city and along the coast, destroying almost everything in its path. Floating casinos were deposited onto highways, and containers that usually ride on the trailers of semi trucks were strewn through what was left of front yards.

Throughout the destruction and during the storm's aftermath, information was needed by people who sought shelter before the hurricane struck and wanted instructions while riding out the storm, along with those who are now assessing the damage and helping with relief efforts. With extensive storm damage hindering official reporting from the area, the blogosphere has once again become a primary news source and a way of passing vital information from eyewitnesses, with many bloggers using battery-powered laptops and wireless handheld devices when the power failed.

With so many people stranded and out of touch in the aftermath of such a storm, local bloggers act not only to report on what is happening in the rest of the world but as an information resource for their community, sharing the latest developments and reports with those who may not have any other way to know what is happening outside of their neighborhood. These bloggers' reports also help to keep their readership informed and to rally support as real people's experiences are shared in an unmediated, raw, and powerful form.

Kaye Trammell's Hurricane Katrina Blog (http://www.hurricaneupdate.blogspot.com) is representative of the kind of information bloggers can provide. Trammell continues to post useful information, such as a report that flights out of Baton Rouge, La., had resumed and that the airport was providing free Wi-Fi to help travelers stay in contact with friends and family.

Metroblogging New Orleans (http://neworleans.metblogs.com) continues to provide a local perspective on relief efforts and problems with looters. Bobbysan (http://www.livejournal.com/users/bobbysan) blogged throughout the storm until his laptop's battery died—his Aug. 30, 2005, entry said he was still trying to get out of town. And John Strain's Online Journal (http://johnstrain.blogspot.com) shares the perspective of a social worker, providing his views on what it was like to ride out Katrina's winds and rain. The Interdictor (http://www.livejournal.com/users/interdictor) has been renamed the Survival of New Orleans blog; it is written in a more survivalist, militaristic voice that is clearly determined to ride out the chaos that resulted after Katrina.

The Katrina Aftermath blog (http://katrina05.blogspot.com) notes: "Text messaging has been the saving technology for us in this hurricane. While the normal voice circuits have been down completely (in New Orleans) or clogged (in Baton Rouge), text messages have been getting through even to those completely cut off in every other way. It's interesting: [S]o many older mobile phone users just aren't into texting, and so they never use it. Now, they're learning on the spot."

These brief synopses are just the tip of a blogging iceberg that continues to provide unique views on an unfolding tragedy that won't be resolved anytime soon. It is clear that the blog form, accessible to witnesses on the front lines of disaster areas, continues to be of great use in connecting people, bringing resources and ideas to bear, disseminating information, and allowing anyone's voice to be heard. The blog format plays a vital role in communicating needed information in times of crises and eyewitness accounts of ongoing events.

After its presses were flooded, New Orleans' TheTimes-Picayune went from being a paper-based to a Web-based newspaper (http://www.nola.com); it continues to report on the state of rescue and relief efforts following Katrina's destruction. The Web-based paper includes a Forums+Chat section that allows readers to look for missing persons or report their own safety. Another section offers various volunteer outlets and specific neighborhood reports as well as a 24/7 chat room discussing the hurricane and its effects. The paper's site also features a bloglike area at which readers can post their own stories and ongoing struggles as they cope with the aftermath of the storm, along with a section for people needing rescuing where increasingly desperate pleas from relatives continue to be posted. (According to reports, the newspaper will resume printing from a facility in nearby Houma, La.)

Among the many information organizations rallying support for rescue and relief efforts is the American Library Association (ALA), which is compiling reports of the impact to libraries and is providing a link for donations to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (http://www.ala.org/ala/pressreleases2005/september2005/HurricaneKatrina.htm).

The Special Libraries Association's (SLA) Information Professionals' Alliance on Natural Disasters and Accidents (IPANDA) is conducting outreach to librarians and information professionals in the Gulf Coast area and is using a blog to connect with SLA members and other information professionals (http://www.sla.org/content/resources/disasterrelief/index.cfm). SLA also posted: "[SLA is] tapping the membership database to pull the names of any active and inactive members who live in Louisiana or Mississippi. We've asked Lisl Zach, the president of SoLaMi (the SLA Southern Louisiana and Mississippi Chapter) to contact these members of our community to offer support of any kind. Whatever our members and their families need, their fellow information professionals would like to mobilize quickly and provide whatever assistance is possible."

Technology organizations making donations to relief efforts include Sprint Nextel (helping to restore communications services), Qwest Communications (giving 2,000 long-distance calling cards), Comcast, and Intel (both donating money). Other technology companies, like Cisco and IBM, are raising funds and providing technical assistance.

Another online community of sorts is represented by the use of the Lost and Found category of the New Orleans Craigslist (http://neworleans.craigslist.org), where hundreds of messages are being posted asking about the safety and location of missing persons in New Orleans.

[Editor's Note: We'll continue to follow the relief and outreach developments and will update this report. Information industry organizations and companies are urged to forward details of aid efforts (e.g., matching funds, special offers of aid, etc.). Please e-mail phane@infotoday.com.]


Miguel Ramos is a library technician of interlibrary loans at Western Washington University.

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