Katrina tech aid ideas, continued

I asked one tech entrepreneur in Texas what he thought of some of the ideas put forth in yesterday's BB post, Katrina aid idea: free net access / voip /cellphones at Astrodome?, and he replied:

Best bet is to go to vonage, and offer a communications center so people can reach loved ones now.

A cafe would be perceived as being elitist if basic needs hadn't been covered.

One more idea I would help support: A craigslist type system of helping people locate loved ones.

It should be noted that the Craigslist system is being used for some aid coordination efforts — housing coordination, and the site's "lost and found" — usually full of "where's my stuff" posts — is now full of posts about missing people. More pointers to peoplefinder and help/housing swaps on the Katrina Help Wiki.

BB reader Charles Oliver Wolff says,

Getting permission to do this is going to take a few steps. First, we need to contact the federal agency coordinating disaster relief. That would probably be FEMA. Region VI includes Texas and Louisiana, so the contact person would probably be the region VI director, Gary Jones, at:

FEMA Region VI
Federal Regional Center

800 N. Loop 288

Denton, Texas 76209

(940) 898-5399

Second, we'd need to find out who the facility director is at the Astrodome.
Harris County owns it, so a call to the county clerk might be a place to start there, or try

Harris County Facilities and Property Management 1310 Prairie St.

Suite 1330

Houston, TX 77002

(713) 755-5091

Lastly, enhance credibility by getting some other outside relief agency that is already involved interested, like the Salvation Army, or something like that. This shouldn't be too hard to do.

There are reports that the Red Cross is setting up some communications facilities inside the Astrodome.

Raymond McKay, President of RAYNET Technologies, says:

Regarding earlier posts of tech geek help for a telecommunications center at the Astrodome, my company is prepared to step up if somebody can find the authorization to setup there. We have lying in wait, all the hardware to setup the network and a phone bank. We will pay whatever it costs to get Internet access into there, and I, and a team, will personally go down there and set it up. All we would need to make this reality is

a) Permission previously stated to be allowed to set this up.

b) Low end workstations. We can probably come up with 10 personally, but more would help

If somebody can get us the information on a) we can get down there and setup in the next couple days.

Reader Lori says,

I have a Katrina aid suggestion. As I write this I'm looking at a still perfectly functional 1 year old Blackberry 7230 that I forsook for the new Treo. There's also a 2 year old Nokia 6560 cell phone and probably one or two others of earlier vintage in a drawer somewhere.

My point is that I live in San Francisco and there's a lot of us here (and I'm guessing in the other metro areas) who replace our technology at a pretty alarming rate for a variety of reasons. It makes for a lot of cell phones sitting in drawers waiting to be donated, sold or tossed. It strikes me that there's a lot of people in the NOLA area that could probably use a free phone right now. They can have mine. And they could probably have every other unused phone in the city. Would you, or anyone in the community have any idea as to how we could make this happen? Might it even be possible to get one of the big providers on board?

I know there are bigger issues of providers and where the hell are those providers going to send a bill if what's left of the users address is now floating in the Gulf. All I know is I have a phone or two and I'd really like to send them to someone who has the clothes on their back, nothing else and no phone.

Snip from a Seattle Times report about what preparations are being made by Houston city officials and aid organizations:

"We're essentially picking up a small city and inserting it into Houston," said Frank Michel, the city's communications director. Once the storm victims arrive, officials said, the challenges will be huge: identifying the sick or emotionally traumatized, helping cash checks and find ATM machines and phones to contact their families.

Cisco is working with four aid organizations to distribute communication kits to the area:

Additional efforts include deployment of Cisco Mobile Communication Kits to the impacted region. These briefcase-size kits contain a packaged set of Cisco technologies designed to be easily transportable and provide mobile Internet Protocol (IP)-based wired or wireless data and voice connectivity for areas that have lost or do not have a communications infrastructure. This allows rapid communications in disaster or remote locations that can be set up within minutes of arrival.

Cisco is working in concert with nongovernmental associations and government agencies to determine the best allocations for the donations(…)


BB reader Edward Ripley-Duggan says,

Great that Google's making a special effort, per your BB post.

However, PayPal has (unless very well hidden) done nothing, despite the fact that it could well play a crucial role in getting money to refugees, given the fact that the PO has bowed to the inevitable and has withdrawn service to portions of the region.

I sent a small cash donation to an online friend yesterday via PayPal
— he is safe, but with no house, no job, and a wife, daughter and babe-in-arms. PP will take their usual slice of the transfer. I strongly feel that a responsible company would make appropriate arrangements in this regard and waive fees (they have the locations of recipients in their database as "confirmed addresses" and could easily determine who is eligible), and would perhaps create a system to facilitate the recovery of funds from their system (I assume his bank is underwater, so how he can get the cash in useful form is of concern to me) — [Ed. Note: see update below from PayPal for their response on this].

UPDATE: PayPal says they have set up a fee free fund for victims. Link


Katrina aid idea: create cybercafe/free voip phone center at Astrodome?

Tech pros ask: how can we help with Katrina recovery?

Reader comment: Ted says,

Regarding Paypal's response this AM what they are offering is something very different from what I wrote to you about. See this link which appears to be what Aaron is referring to. [Incidentally, could be wrong, but I don't believe this was in place when I wrote.]

I'm delighted that they are doing this, but the point I made is not addressed by a generic donation to United Way, albeit fee-free. This is something entirely different from waving fees for payments made directly to individual friends and family based in the affected areas, which is what is sorely needed (as well as facilitating the means to convert those funds from PayPal to cash). There's clearly going to be a need among evacuees for an emergency banking network, and this is where PayPal could provide an invaluable service, and where it should not be making money per transaction. It's really the only game in town. That's what I was suggesting, not merely that PayPal should set up a link to a charity!

I feel, quite frankly, that the statement made by PayPal is somewhat obfuscating and wee bit self-serving, and has no relevancy. We are talking here of two entirely different issues.