Found this in the Washington Post this morning......... Thought y'all
would be interested in seeing it.
You guys are doing great things down there. I only wish I had the means
to be able to join you. I had hoped to get a bunch of surplus PCs to
send to you but due to my employer being in bankruptcy we aren't able to
Wireless Networks Give Voice To Evacuees*
By Arshad Mohammed
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 9, 2005; A15
Hurricane Katrina survivor Caprice Butler had been at a church shelter
in rural northeastern Louisiana for nearly a week when she finally heard
her husband's voice on an Internet phone running on an improvised
"I was just overjoyed," she said yesterday, tearing up as she spoke
outside the church in the farming town of Mangham, about 200 miles from
her flooded New Orleans home. "Words can't explain how I felt."
If the Butlers manage to reunite this weekend, as they hope, it will be
because of a band of volunteer techies who are stitching together
wireless networks at shelters across northeastern Louisiana using radio
transmitters mounted on such items as a grain silo and a water tower.
With few reliable communications systems in place, people and companies
from around the country are converging on the region to create
improvised networks that give survivors and emergency personnel ways to
talk and coordinate efforts.
While local telephone and wireless networks are slowly coming back, they
remain spotty or nonexistent in some places, and fire, police and other
rescue personnel have complained about the lack of a unified emergency
communications system. To meet the needs of evacuees in Jackson, Miss.,
Dulles-based America Online has parked an 18-wheel truck at the
Mississippi State Fairgrounds, a major shelter, with a satellite dish on
top and 20 computers with Internet access inside. At the Houston
Astrodome, volunteers have obtained a Federal Communications Commission
license to set up a low-power radio station and are now struggling to
get permission from local officials to broadcast to evacuees inside the
F4W, a Lake Mary, Fla., company, is under government contract to provide
Internet phones and online access to Coast Guard officers cleaning up
oil spills, using a portable satellite dish and handsets often deployed
in forest fires.
The network at Mangham Baptist Church was the brainchild of Mac Dearman,
a wireless Internet service provider who was driving past the church
last week when he saw a group of parked cars, realized they were people
who had fled the hurricane and set about providing relief, including
food, clothing and online access.
Dearman hooked up a radio transmitter near the church and linked that to
a voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) telephone and a computer, and
suddenly the dozens of people taking refuge at the church had the
ability to reach out to the outside world.
Mostly, they are searching for loved ones and filling out Federal
Emergency Management Agency forms to get disaster aid.
"They just call from shelter to shelter to shelter looking for their
kids or for their daddies or their brothers because they got separated,
and they are just finding each other in the last few days," Dearman
said, adding that people were often overwhelmed when they connected.
"They cried big tears, hugged my neck, shook my hand and patted me on
the back. You'd have thought I was really giving them something that
cost a lot of money," he added.
Dearman is working entirely with donated labor and equipment.
People from as far afield as Nebraska, Missouri and Indiana are camped
out in his house, coordinating equipment deliveries, searching for
shelters that need service, and then sending out volunteers to climb
towers to hook up radio antennas and set up the networks.
"We are basically completely bypassing the phone system," said Matt
Larsen of Scottsbluff, Neb., who said he was perched on a bar stool with
his laptop at Dearman's kitchen counter.
Dearman estimated that he had run wireless links to about a dozen
shelters near his home base of Rayville, La., but only about half were
up and running because he had run out of equipment.
He was expecting fresh donations of secondhand computers, VoIP phones
and wireless equipment. Once he has those in hand, he said, he hopes to
extend to shelters closer to New Orleans and to Mississippi's Gulf Coast.
"It's been a godsend," said the Rev. Rick Aultman, pastor of Mangham
Baptist Church, where about four dozen people are staying.
© 2005 The Washington Post Company
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