Theres been no shortage of disturbing images coming out of the Gulf Coast, leaving many with a sense of helplessness and hopelessness in the wake of the Katrina disaster.
But even as our sense of safety, our trust in government, even our faith in basic humanity have been shaken, there stirs in most of us that very basic desire to offer help to those affected.
Indeed, the technology community has been no different.
Among the big vendors, Microsoft stepped up with a $1 million donation to a number of agencies as well as offered a matching program for employee contributions. The company also built a Web site to help Gulf Coast residents locate missing friends and family. And it has posted links to most aid groups on Microsoft.com, MSN.com and its other Web properties, along with instructions on safe online giving.
IBM, meanwhile, is donating code and models to help insurance companies process claims.
And Yahoo has taken over hosting duties for the American Red Cross Web site to ramp the organizations ability to handle increased traffic, while Oracle and others have instituted matching donations to double contributions from their employees.
But what can the average IT professional do to get involved?
The Federal Department of Health and Human Services last week put out the call for medical professionals, including IT and communications specialists with experience in the health care field, to do 14-day deployments to the storm-ravaged area.
Be warned, the conditions—the DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services) admits—are "austere." You can expect 12-hour shifts, few showers, living in a tent, no air conditioning, long periods of standing, sleep accommodations on a bed roll, military ready-to-eat meals and portable toilets.
Such is the price of heroism.
According to the DHHS: "These workers will be nonpaid temporary federal employees and will therefore be eligible for coverage under the Federal Tort Claims Act for liability coverage and Workmans Compensation when functioning as HHS employees. Although there will not be any salary, travel and per diem will be paid."
Linux developers pitch in
Perhaps the most innovative plan to help Katrina victims comes out of Yuba City, Calif. There, a motivated group of Linux developers led by Steve Hargadon, of Hargadon Computer, is banding together to collect used computer and networking gear to create public Web stations in shelters, evacuation centers and any other place refugees might need to access Internet-based services.
Hargadon has set up a very active base of Internet operations at PublicWebStations. com, which has become a clearinghouse for volunteers and folks looking to donate hardware.
"Hurricane Katrina has left individuals and families with urgent needs, and relief agencies will work hard to prepare food, clothing and shelter for them," Hargadon said in the preamble to his plea for voluntary assistance from the Linux community.
"However," Hargadon went on, "a huge number will be unable to return to their homes for weeks or even months. Free, readily available public access to the Internet can provide a crucial lifeline both for the displaced and for the aid workers who have come to help them."
In addition to offering a place for volunteers and donators to connect, the PublicWebStations.com site offers details on how to set up such free public Web stations using older PCs.
Hargadons group has teamed with DIYParts.org, which is already abuzz with used gear being swapped and donated for the Katrina public Internet kiosk project.
Executive Editor/News Chris Gonsalves can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.