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Katrina Update: Project Connect
Jon Lebkowsky, 4 Dec 05

Hurricane Katrina
David Geilhufe of Social Source Foundation recently sent statistics to volunteer developers who worked on the Katrina PeopleFinder Project. According to those numbers, the project mobilized over 3,000 volunteers and accomplished these goals:

  • The project started on September 1, 2005 with the Social Source Foundation, CivicSpace Labs and the Salesforce.com Foundation committing ourselves to the three basic goals.
  • By September 5, we had finalized the Peoplefinder Interchange Format (PFIF), a technical standard for storing and exchanging refugee data.
  • By September 6, virtually every message board post was hand-entered by volunteers into the PeopleFinder database (100,000 records).
  • By September 10, almost every missing and found person record on the web was searchable at www.katrinalist.net (350,000 records).
  • By September 19, over 620,000 records are searchable.
  • In its first two weeks, the site processed over 500,000 searches

As late as October 12, the search site at katrinalist.net was still serving hundreds of searches per day. The Red Cross search site at katrinasafe.com is also still active, and will remain through February 2006.

Where are the people of New Orleans today? According to the Wikipedia article on Katrina, "45-50% of the nearly half a million people evacuated from the affected area into other states have indicated an unwillingness to return."

A full 40% of those surveyed among the 250,000 evacuees in Texas indicated that they intended to remain in the state permanently. Another 15% indicated that they would probably relocate to other areas of the country instead of returning to Louisiana. Already, thousands of the evacuees and other citizens from Louisiana have started to migrate not only to the evacuation areas such as Texas, Georgia, and Arkansas, but to other areas including Tennessee, California and the Carolinas.

Mayor Ray Nagin just spoke with evacuees in Atlanta encouraging their return, and found them reluctant.

What this means is that a significant population is displaced, many of them children who were uprooted from their friends and supporet systems. Considering this, 4empowerment.com and the nonprofit Center for Technology Transfer are launching Project Connect, which will create an online point of contact for those kids. Project Connect helps students by fostering their creative voices and giving them a place to interact online. It's the brainchild of my friend Steve Amos. I first met Steve seven or eight years ago, when he was in advertising, working at GSD&M's Idea City in Austin. GSD&M is one of the largest and most creative ad agencies in the U.S., and I was initially surprised when Steve left to follow his bliss by forming 4empowerment. He wanted to support secondary education with a high-quality new media web site. Steve saw the potential to create online communities of students and give them a set of digital tools to extend their capabilities and expand their awareness.

4empowerment started with an environmental science site called Cyberways and Waterways, which has since been integrated with several other components in an expanded 4empowerment site. Cyberways showed students how to collect and input data from their own watersheds and relate that data to larger environmental systems. He also had forums and chat events. There was one chat event that used audio and video to allow students to connect with someone who was on a dive in the Gulf of Mexico.

After several years of evolution, 4empowerment now includes sections on Science and Language Arts along with Community Features, a News section. and an e-zine. It's a rich environment for learning and communication, and a good framework for Project Connect. A for-profit, 4empowerment is working with the nonprofit Center for Technology Transfer to make Project Connect a free service supported by donations. The project has a couple of important advantages. General online community sites and social network platforms may also be gathering places for hurricane evacuees, but many evacuees may not have access to computers. Also, given the volume and diversity of online venues and the use of partial anonymity to protect childrens' privacy, it will be difficult for student evacuees to find their friends online. An advantage of Project Connect is that it provides a secure environment that students access from school, where equipment and guidance are available.

There are other resources addressing students affected by Katrina and other hurricanes and disasters. The National Center for Homeless Education has a web page listing several resources, including 7-Dippity.com's After the Storm, which "contains information, activities and coping strategies to help parents and children cope with their reactions and feelings resulting from a hurricane and its aftermath," and a link to Hurricane Kids Network, a site built for the book When the Hurricane Blew, written by Florida fourth graders who experienced two direct hits within a year.

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Comments

I liked this one too:

http://www.wired.com/news/planet/0,2782,69613,00.html?tw=wn_tophead_6

Pleasure-boating may not be a major drain on the world's energy supplies, but every little bit helps. Besides, buoyancy means there's less sensitivity to weight. I wonder if this idea could be applied to a supertanker? I've already read about superconductive motors saving space on ships compared to regular combustion engines.


Posted by: sanman on 4 Dec 05

Nice to have a Katrina update. Hope to see more updates about Katrina and the tsunami as well.

Odd that there has been very little attention paid to the Pakistani earthquake especially since it is an opportunity to be worldchanging in a very sensitive region.


Posted by: gmoke on 4 Dec 05



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