When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August of 2005, ICT infrastructure was severely damaged and communication was compromised. With many cell phone towers out of service, people were forced to use other means of communication to locate loved ones and seek aid. An article published in MIT Technology Review titled “Technology Responds to Hurricane Katrina” shortly after Katrina hit, highlighted the use of ICTs in locating and assisting victims.
The article discusses how Craigslist became a forum to find missing persons. Motorola mobilized equipment including radios and chargers to aid in communication. Many people turned to radio for their information needs due to cell phone tower failures. In addition, people outside of the disaster zone were able to donate to the relief effort through the Internet. Katrina highlighted a change in disaster response that was shaped by the use of information and communication technologies.
The article also mentions Freedom4Wireless, an organization providing mobile wireless networks in disaster situations. It was founded in 2003 and was called on to provide affordable communication technology when Katrina hit in 2005. Freedom4Wireless (F4W) sent personnel to the area to set up technology allowing rescue workers to stay connected. The equipment is solar and battery powered and provided communication where none existed. F4W stayed for months after Hurricane Katrina hit to help facilitate recovery efforts.
Since 2005, F4W’s technology has advanced and improved. It has been deployed in a number of disaster recovery efforts and has extended service to places with insufficient infrastructure to support communication technology. While our dependence on technology has the potential to be debilitating during emergency situations, Freedom4Wireless represents a new era of disaster response that relies on communication technology.