Marla R. Stevens

Central Database Needed

Filed By Marla R. Stevens | September 03, 2005 9:51 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics

One of the most frustrating things beyond the treatment of the poor in New Orleans similarly to the Union prisoners at Andersonville during the Civil War, is the complete lack of a coordinated national clearinghouse to reconnect friends and families. The Red Cross, despite having a long-standing mechanism, refused until late Friday night to permit its use for the Katrina debacle -- opening it only after being shamed by several prominent members of the mainstream news media. But even it does not promise that they will attempt to gather data being held by a variety of sources, from FEMA and the military to CNN, MSNBC,, various shelters, hospitals, service agencies, Craig's List, underfunded upstart groups like Natl NOKR, and Hurricane Katrina Connection message board, and many private websites and e-mail lists such as Ivan Neville's. Nor does it or any of the other official sites promise to actively reconnect people in any way. In fact, the Red Cross site is one of the more confusingly and least helpfully organized.

Imagine yourself trying to find someone or trying to make that you're looking for people known and trying to decide whether to go online -- if you have access -- for hours on end filling out endless forms or keeping your eyes glued to the television seeking loved ones' faces or, as some I've worked with have, spent endless hours trying to get access to places like the Astrodome, then searching for loved ones in that chaos and interviewing as many as you can to see if they might have news. Clearly, the lack of a coordinated process is radically adding to the stress of already-too-stressed people, not to mention hindering rescue efforts.

Every time I ask about the loved one of dear friends who is still missing -- doing that to free them to care for the loved ones we have already located and are getting medical treatment and clothes and emotional support and transport to longterm housing in the bosom of family -- I run across several more needing help finding loved ones, so that my own lists are growing exponentially. I am not alone.

The mayor of Houston has asked Microsoft to consider creating software to handle the enormous numbers of missing/found/looking for requests and make it widely available. I don't know if Microsoft has agreed to it. I do know that, done well, it would be a labor intensive operation requiring budget and human power (for interviewing, connecting services, photography/videography and data input as well as phone access and, especially, text messaging capacity as NOLA cell phones still cannot receive voice calls despite that non-NOLA cell phones are receiving voice calls within NOLA) beyond the reasonable capacity of any of the overtaxed NGOs, thus would need government support and coordination. I know, too, that it isn't happening. It's not as important as water to prevent and heal dehydration but it is important.

We did it for 9/11. We should do no less for this even greater tragedy.

Please add advocacy for a centralized information repository to your list of things to do to help in this crisis. Call Congress, the news media, and the White House (do not call FEMA or the NGOs -- those lines must stay open for even more pressing concerns) to ask why there is no single repository, centralized data collection/displaced persons connection service available and insist that one be created.

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