Katrina lessons: Linux kiosks for post-disaster comms

Snip from an interesting story at Linux.com about tech entrepreneur Steve Hargadon of TechnologyRescue.com. His humanitarian tech project involving public web kiosks helped Katrina victims reconnect last year:

Hargadon specializes in Linux thin clients for small businesses and schools. He likes to transform aging Windows networks into high-speed, low-cost, virus-free workstations by using existing PCs, sans hard drives, that act as dumb terminals. Hargadon has discovered that that kind of technology translates easily into community outreach. He started thinking about that as he watched the world's response to the Asian tsunami in 2004. "I wondered, what are people doing on those response teams and in the emergency shelters, and wouldn't it be nice if they could get Internet? I started playing around with some ideas and looking at different live CD versions of kiosk software."

When Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast in 2005, Hargadon decided to take his thin client knowledge and the live CD concept and do what he could. "I thought, let's see if we can make a difference." He went to the shelters and to local Red Cross agencies with his proposal: to provide the means for workers and victims to easily and securely access the 'Net. The agencies took him up on that offer.

Hargadon created the bootable CDs with Morphix Linux and a locked-down version of the Firefox browser. The system is configured to clear the cache when Firefox is closed or after five minutes of inactivity. Hargadon also creates custom portal sites for agencies that request the kiosk software.

One problem Hargadon encountered with the kiosks was that FEMA Web sites were not fully accessible with Firefox, so shelters had to have a Windows system available to access that agency's services online. Even so, he says, the kiosks were deployed "fairly widely" in hurricane-affected areas. This year, Hargadon created a custom CD for victims of Tropical Cyclone Larry, which hit Innisfail in Queensland, Australia..

Link (thanks, Mike Outmesguine!)