A former Army Green Beret, and colleagues at a Web hosting service, are holed up in a commercial building in downtown New Orleans, with weeks of food and water and a diesel-powered electric generator, struggling to keep a segment of the Internet from going offline because of Hurricane Katrina, Ziff Davis Internet has learned.
The former Special Operations soldier with the U.S. Army also is filing reports from the scene in the devastated downtown area of the Big Easy at mgno.com, which he calls the “Survival of New Orleans Blog.”
Michael Barnett, now crisis manager at Directnic.com, tells Ziff Davis Internet that his firm runs a data center where 2 percent of the Internet is hosted on the companys servers.
“We host Web pages—businesses,” said Barnett in an interview conducted via AOL Instant Messenger on Wednesday. “We have to stay up. We go down, and so does 2 percent of the Internet.”
Barnett says he spent two years in the Army infantry, and an additional six with the 20th Special Forces Group, which is now based at Birmingham, Ala.
Like others with a similar background, Barnett has been trained for long-duration, indirect activities including guerrilla warfare and other low visibility, or clandestine operations.
This has helped him, his colleagues—and his fiancée, who is staying with him at an undisclosed commercial site in downtown New Orleans—stay online, even though the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, ordered the city evacuated, and is using the military and police to enforce the order.
The Weblog reads like a report from war-torn Sudan or another Third World hotspot.
“Theres a massive police staging area on Canal Street right by the casino,” wrote Barnett on Tuesday at 12:16 p.m. “The 82nd Airborne is here in force. Theyre patrolling the city. Theres a massive military staging area near the Convention Center by the I-10. The helicopter traffic is the most Ive seen since I was stationed at Ft. Hood.”
In addition to reports from the streets, Barnett is also reporting on how some businesses are getting power, like the Pan Am Building, “just down the street.”
The DoubleTree hotel also reportedly has power again, he reported Monday.
The authorities did come to the data center Tuesday night—U.S. Marshals Service and Army Airborne to “investigate the lights and movement” in their office, said Barnett.
After learning of the 34-year-olds military background, they retreated, however.
Barnett said that the evacuation is probably a good idea for most.
“Its probably necessary if theres E. coli in the water and a chance for Hep A and Hep B,” Barnett told Ziff Davis Internet. But he and his colleagues have “tons of supplies, and were safe.”
Other ISPs and Web hosting providers—though not positioned at ground zero of the catastrophe—are helping get other blogs reporting about Katrina online.
A volume of Katrina “domain names” have been purchased in recent days, Natasha Grach, a spokeswoman for Aplus.Net, a Web hosting service based in San Diego.
One of the biggest groups interested in setting up Web sites and blogs is lawyers, Bob Sadowski, a spokesman for LexisNexis, the online news retrieval service.
“We are setting up individual blogs for law firms to facilitate in-firm communication and location of individuals and families,” said Sadowski.
A number of public information officers at universities and colleges in the South are working with the online service profnet to set up “temporary enrollment for college students displaced by the hurricane,” Skip Traynor, a spokesman for Alma College, told Ziff Davis Internet.
Even film director Michael Moore is using the Internet to foster disaster recovery efforts.
He is sending instructions to his followers as to how to ship paper plates, towels, food and school supplies to disaster survivors through VFPRoadTrips.org.
“If you cant ship these items, or go there in person, the go to VFPRoadTrips.org and make an immediate donation via PayPal,” wrote Moore, who is calling the hurricane a “man-made disaster.”
The folks of Directnic at the building in downtown New Orleans, Barnett and colleagues, including CEO Sigmund Solares and Donny Simonton, senior vice president, seem to be the most dramatic Internet-related Katrina story for now, though.
The blog Barnett runs, originally called the Interdictor, was built before the hurricane, but was repurposed, and the old content was removed after the disaster.
During the last five days, the site has generated 2.5 million hits, from all over the globe. Barnett is receiving 100 IMs per minute “at peak hours,” he said.
When asked how long the group can survive there, Barnett, with military matter-of-factness, simply said, “weeks.”