Lesson for Communicators: Grassroots Tsunami Team Remobilizes For Katrina

by Allan Jenkins on September 9, 2005

What can ordinary people do in the face of catastrophe?

Jeremy Pepper and Richard Edelman believe natural disasters are events that leave bloggers and wiki-builders powerless.  Warren Bickford believes there’s little that IABC can do. (Addendum: Jeff Jarvis is hard at work with a coterie to solve the next disaster – Jeff, why don’t you and your group help solve this one first: Keep reading for how you can volunteer.)

Nothing could be further from the truth: bloggers can make a difference. While I agree with Pepper that few bloggers seem to be doing more than complaining about government efforts,  I’d like to point out a huge exception.

I’ve written earlier about the incredible South East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami blog/wiki effort that went into action hours after the tsunami. Grassroots- organized using blogs, wikis, IM, and Skype. And effective at a time with most governments and relief organizations were in shock.

The same team has swung into action with the Katrina Help blog and wiki. The team, spanning three continents, including professional communicators, has used the blog, the wike, IM, and Skype to set up:

  • A comprehensive blog, operating since August 29th.
  • A wiki, updated seemingly hourly, with job offers, transportation offers, housing offers, updated emergency management information, info about conditions on the ground. Comunicators: PR-blogger Constantin Basturea is one of the moderators.
  • A PeopleFinder effort to help locate missing persons and reunite them with families. They need volunteers, including communicators!
  • A ShelterFinder effort: ditto above, you can volunteer.
  • A KatrinaHelpLine, staffed 24/7 by volunteers. This is Skype-based, with a New Orleans area Skype-in number (+1 504 208 1564).

So what can IABC and its members, PRSA and its members, any communicator — or any one of us, for that matter, do to help this effort?

  • Well, we can donate your time. Plenty of information about that on the Wiki.
  • We can also donate money or services to keep the effort going. It’s a volunteer effort, and they are using free software (Blogger, Skype, etc) but there are some hosting costs. You can read more about their needs here. Microcontributions or contributions-in-kind appear welcome.

The lesson here for communicators? Bloggers and micro-media users — real communicators — can make a difference. It’s a question of rapid organization and will. We don’t have the tools is no longer an excuse for us.


Via Conversations with Dina and other sources.


Jeremy Pepper September 9, 2005 at 5:43 PM

Thanks Allan. I guess my biggest complaint is not that blogs/wikis are powerless, but that people are using blogs/wikis to pontificate on helping the little people.

Blogs/wikis are great for getting out information, and wikis are great for open organization. But, less writing, more doing.

Like, what you have here… writing that points to things you can do, rather than just having meetings of bloggers.

Lisa Owens September 9, 2005 at 8:05 PM

IABC is doing something – we are raising money to give to the 39 IABC members in New Orleans that have been displaced by the storm. Warren Bickford just posted a message in his IABC Cafe blog (entry is IABC Cares), and the same message is being distributed to chapter leaders all over the world. Thanks for helping us spread the word, Allan!

Allan Jenkins September 10, 2005 at 11:59 AM

You're missing my point.

I'm all for IABC raising money for the 39 members; IABC could also give the 39 substantial "credit" on dues, conference, lost professional literature, etc.

But what I miss is what IABC and PRSA's best brains could be doing for the wider community over the next few months. We call ourselves the best brains in the communication profession — surely now's a good time to put that intellectual and professional capacity to work.

Do I know what those steps should be? Not right off hand; but I have tried to illustrate what a small group of volunteers was able to accomplish — practical stuff, not just calls for donations — for free and within hours.

Surely the 12,000+ IABC comms professionals should be able to come up with practical solutions — and I think IABC leaders should be leading that effort.

Finally, I wasn't helping your spread the word, your thanks are misplaced.

[I've edited my original comment after a reader suggested it was injudicious and not perfectly clear. I trust this version is judicious and clear.]

Don Klausmeyer, ABC October 4, 2005 at 12:17 AM

Here's some practical steps:
The Dallas/IABC board of directors wants to directly assist IABC members who have relocated temporarily or otherwise to the Dallas area due to Hurricane Katrina. Through the end of the year, were’s what we’re offering:

Free admission to monthly professional development meetings.
Dallas/IABC lunch meetings are held the second Tuesday of every month. Event details are available on our web site at http://www.dallasiabc.com.

Grants for the Southern Region Conference in College Station, Oct. 16-18, or the Dallas/IABC professional development day on Oct. 7 (details also on our web site).

Free posting to the Dallas/IABC freelance directory. Dallas/IABC hosts an online freelance directory that receives almost 15,000 views a month.

Networking opportunities, carpooling. Naturally, all of our events offer great networking opportunities. If transportation is an issue, our board of directors members come from all parts of the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex. We’d be glad to provide a ride if possible.

Anyone in our area who would like to take advantage of this offer may contact me at don.klausmeyer@att.net or (214) 893-9069, or Carrie Mamantov, Dallas/IABC technology director at Carrie.Mamantov@sabre-holdings.com or (214) 642-4586.

Danielle September 18, 2006 at 3:20 AM

Hey Allan,
I guess I should first say that I am only commenting on the blog, not on the blog's comments.
At first I would agree with Jeremy Pepper and Richard Edelman who "believe natural disasters are events that leave bloggers and wiki-builders powerless." But as I continued to read about what was done and can be done in the future, it started to sway my opinion. But I still have doubts. There are still many people out there that don't know about blogs, so how would they know that they can find jobs or shelter information on them. Was this advertised anywhere that let people know? Because, no offense, I don't think my first thought would be to look at a Wiki or blog to find a job, shelter, or a loved one. Also, many people don't have Skype or don't even know what Skype is and how likely is it that they would be able to get to a computer when they don't even have a place to live?
But aside from my criticisms, I have to say that the raising of money is one thing that I can't argue with. That is a great thing and one that shouldn't be criticized. And for those who do blog and want to help out, the links that show people where volunteer work that is needed is great. Because I do think that there are tons of people out there who want to help, they just don't know how.

Mutually Inclusive PR September 10, 2005 at 7:25 PM

Bloggers: Stop Chatting and Do Something

Allan Jenkins is calling on bloggers and communicators to spend more time and energy doing something useful about disasters like Hurricane Katrina. From his blog, Desirable Roasted Coffee: So what can IABC and its members, PRSA and its members, any com…

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