They started in earnest on Sept. 1. The posts to the PHONE+ Web site, that is. The first went something like this: I am trying to get some information on family members in Ocean Springs, Miss. Their names are: John Gregory Matthews, his wife Shannon and 13-year-old daughter Olivia. Winston and Betty Jones, Mike and Christen Suarez … Last known whereabouts; 7412 Kruger place Ocean Springs, Miss. 39564 …
PHONE+ recently had added a user comment feature to its daily news reports, which on Sept. 1 and the days following were a litany of articles about telephone company efforts to restore Gulf Coast networks and aid victims of Hurricane Katrina.
When the comment came in for editorial approval, I felt distraught and stunned, then shame for my hesitation at approving the posting. My phone rang disrupting my self-admonition. It was Online Editor Kelly Teal. Had I read the user comment that just came in, she asked me. What should we do, she asked me. I doubt it will help their search, but we will not be the ones to dash hope, I told her. Post it, I told her. Besides, its probably an isolated event, I thought.
I thought wrong. The first comment soon was followed by many others, each a reminder of the desperate situation and the human need to do something, anything but give in to the unthinkable. We continued to post their pleas.
I am seeking information about my sister and brother-in-law …
I am seeking any information about my niece …
Please help me contact my old friend and shipmate …
Our editorial offices were solemn that day and the days that followed.
The flood of comments has slowed to a trickle even as the water in New Orleans begins to recede finally. As much as there is a human story here, there is a technology story.
Of course, the family members used the Internet and the Web to reach out to keep tabs 24/7 on the news. My own e-mail box filled with breaking news reports sent by staff, friends, family and sources.
The networks were the first hope for many displaced from their homes and for their loved ones frantically searching. Telecom operators were quick to begin to repair this vital connection, this lifeline.
As the initial storm passed, the hotlines have become the central nerve for reuniting families and dispensing aid. Most shelters were equipped with phones and Internet access courtesy of local operators to speed the process of helping victims get back on their feet.
If you didnt know it before, you know it now: Your networks are fundamental to our daily lives and work. Your commitment to their preservation is invaluable.