Hurricanes, forest fires, tornadoes, tsunamis, and other natural disasters that travel distances are by their very nature able to give advance notice to significant populations of potential victims that lie in their path. It is for these types of destructive natural phenomena that the use of ICTs can mean life or death for certain groups of people.
Hurricane Katrina was no exception, as many residents of affected coastal areas who did not evacuate were unable to make contact with relatives and friends using traditional landline phones. Enter The Katrina PeopleFinder Project. This quickly-formed, massively distributed effort run by over 100 volunteer techies, and even more data-entry volunteers, created a uniform standard for collecting, compiling, data-entering, and searching information on people affected by Hurricane Katrina. Peoplefinder addressed the risk of duplicating other efforts, or interrupting existing momentum, by “structuring” their data in an open-source format. Volunteers did this by matching up partial information from one source or another, and compiling the information into one, comprehensive source- and one that complimented efforts by the Red Cross and others. Enlisting the aid of nonprofit technology assistance providers Radical Designs, Social Source Foundation, and CivicSpace Labs, the site http://www.neworleansnetwork.org was created with open source technologies designed by and for nonprofits. Using this tool, refugees and others affected by the storm could locate missing family members or access other information to help the people of New Orleans stay connected to the communities they loved.
This and other ICT services played an immense role in the response to Hurricane Katrina. Had those volunteers not donated hours of their time to searching, compiling, and entering data on victims of the storm, many would have undoubtedly been waiting far longer to find out about their missing loved ones, if they found out about them at all.