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Katrina: Community Tech Response


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September 16, 2005

By Staff

Community groups on the ground in areas hit by Katrina provide needed tech.

I have been coordinating remotely with a few groups on the ground who are working to connect people affected by Katrina to the Internet and to the phone system. Here's a report from afar.

There are a number of groups working together to provide Internet and Voip telephone connectivity to people affected by Katrina.

CU Wireless, a project of the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center, has been helping coordinate project donations and has a mailing list.


One group on the ground is Radio Response, an ad-hoc group set up in response to the hurricane. The initial focus was connecting shelters in Northern Louisiana, but now the group has moved south and is currently staging in Ponchatoula, Louisiana. According to Aleks Clark (aka Sweeper), Radio Response has connected shelters in Taluah, Oakridge, Delhi, Bascin, and a number other sites via wireless. They have set up 6 backhaul links and connected at least 15 shelters using Voip phones routed by Chilitech. Radio Response is working on getting a site in King's Camp connected to a VSAT rig. Front Range Internet, Inc. has supplied Voip phones and ATAs currently in use at the Radio Response staging area in Ponchatoula.

There are currently 21 Radio Response volunteers on the ground, and a total of 30 volunteers have come through the site so far. Sweeper notes, "btw, we have the canadian equvalents of che guevara and kevin mitnick working for us."

A number of people from Radio Response have gone to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, which Kevin Cupit described as "levelled". Kevin said, "I'm sitting where there was a church, and there is absolutely nothing here. It literally looks like a nuclear bomb went off here. Nothing but a slab. Solid iron bent in half. One of the army girls was crying. Military folks that have worked after the tsumani have never even seen this." Radio Response and Aidphone are working to get Bay St. Louis shelters, American Red Cross, CityTeam, and the Navy connected to the Internet and on Voip phones. There are hopefully 1000 ATAs (VoIP phone adapters) to be delivered tomorrow. The Navy and the ARC are currently sharing a low bandwith VSAT link.

Radio Response is working with Aidphone, who have a couple people on the ground and have provided Voip connectivity. Aidphone has been working closely with Intel, Cisco, and Vonage to get gear. Wireless Community Networks has been doing great work and have people on the ground working alongside Radio Response and Aidphone.

Tomorrow, Radio Response is going to Algiers to meet up with the great work being done down there. They are bringing laptops, Voip phones, and other kit.

Hackers Joel Johnson and Jacob Appelbaum (incredible photos) are in Algiers which is right across the Mississippi from New Orleans. They are working with local activist Malik Rahim. Malik has been helping the community coordinating food, shelter, and medical relief.

Their site in Algiers has had a number of high-profile visits, including Cindy Sheehan and Naomi Klein. Food Not Bombs has delivered food and has activists working locally. Joel & Jake have set up a community tech center, using EVDO cell phones for networking.

TThey have also set up a low power FM radio station reaching New Orleans. It is transmitting at 94.5 FM. Free Radio Berkeley is sending a larger 70 watt transmitter so they'll have better coverage. When Algiers gets more bandwidth (pinging DirectNIC, come in DirectNIC!), the station will stream to the Internet.

Some technical notes for geeks reading this. Sipura ATAs, Polycom Voip phones, Trango Broadband wireless (M900A, Atlas 10), and Cisco Voip gear have been used. MCI/Bellsouth are currently working on getting a DS3 up in Gulfport. When that comes in, there will be much more bandwidth for the groups to tap into. Currently they are doing wireless links to DSL and such. They have tried to contact DirectNIC but haven't set up an arrangement yet. I believe people are going to go directly to the DirectNIC NOC and talk to them.

I have missed many people and groups in this article--I apologize. The work on the ground is being done with the help of many organizations and people. I'll also note Free Press, Media Access Project, and Part15 have contributed to this effort.




 
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