I have been out of the country the last week. Watching CNN, reading websites and my email, trying to keep up with the
disaster that was escalating in the Gulf Coast. While I was gone, I had responded to an email request for any extra
merchandise thatMavs might have for those staying in Dallas hotels and we sent boxes full of merchandise to
I got back last night, and while switching between Fox News, MSNBC and CNN, I tried to read the FEMA, Red Cross
and Salvation Army websites to get a feel for where I could contribute in addition to writing a check.
After reading story after story about evacuees and their needs, I put together my own personal clothing drive
where I collected mostly business attire, shirts, shoes, ties, pants, 75 pct of which was brand new. All told there
was probably 50k dollars worth of clothing that I piled into the back of a truck.
Ihad my assistant try calling the Red Cross and Salvation Army, but there was no answer from their local
offices. I thought that was curious. Not even an answeringmachine messagedirecting me to a website.
Sowe located awebsite that listed various assistance programs going on, including local collection
points. So I took off forthe collection spot at Texas Stadium.
It was just me. Low key. Trying to help. No media. Just trying to the right thing. I got to Texas Stadium and
waited as cars inched toward the parking lot entrance.
As I sat there, I watched as probably 90 pct of the many cars in front of me were not entering, but instead were
driving away. As I got close enough, I could see hand written signs saying “We are not accepting any clothes or
household items”. I got to the front of the line. The volunteer confirmed just that. No clothes.
Undeterred, I drove off to the Salvation Army collection point not far away.
The line of cars was far shorter, but the same scenario, almost every car was pulling forward, doing a U Turn and
driving off. This time I asked the volunteer if there were any sites that were collecting clothes. Nope. Not a single
WasI too late?
When I got back home I immediately jumped to the web and started looking through the
FEMA and Salvation
Army sites. There it was. Red Cross and the Salvation Army both said thesame line (Fema didnt have a
reference I could find). We don’t accept In Kind donations or physical items. The cost to store and
distribute these items is prohibitive. Although the Salvation Army did say that we should still continue to donate
clothing, bric a brac and furniture to the Salvation Army for their ongoing programs. I guess their on going
programs were backlogged as well.
It’s my fault for not reading and confirming what they were looking for. But what about all the other
people that were driving away from the collection points? Was it their fault too? Or was what we hada failure
Count me among those who think that among the mistakes made along the way was the horrible use of the media and
internet by the aid organizations.
As I write this, Fox News is repeating a tape of volunteers delivering canned goods and other items to evacuees.
Right now Fox News is liveshowing DVDs that have been sent. Items that both the Red Cross and Salvation
Army say you should not bring or send or deliver.
Should the Red Cross and Salvation Army among other organizations expect that everyone with a desire to help will
read through their websites to confirm what and where to send items? Or should they have anticipated that Americans,
with our propensity to help those in need, wouldtryto help in the only way they are able?
Thatthey at bestwould glance at the their organization home pages.
The Red Cross,rather than showing Rev. Jessa Jackson offers words of encouragement and Good to be Safe, a
survivor tale as the top two items, and pictures that take up valuable real estate on their homepage, shouldn’t they
highlight actions items? How to give and get help? And leave the wonderful success stories for the linked pages? The
Salvation Army homepage did the same thing.
Beyond the website, shouldn’t there have been a coordinated effort through the media to educate all of us on how
I know it’s easy to criticize and find mistakes. I know that in a situation like this, perfection is never ever
the outcome. However, given the resources that are required and will be required to help all of the unfortunate
people who have lost so much. Isn’t it reasonable to think that many people will rush to offer “in kind” donations
and that our biggest aid organizations should ask the media to educate us why they can not accept such donations and
direct us to those organizations that can accept them or be very clear that only money can be accepted.
I am curious if there was a coordinated media effort among aid organizations, or was it every one for itself. A
battle for donations? I don’t have the answer.
Again, it’s so easy to monday morning quarterback. I don’t think anyone really expected the devastation and loss
of life that occured. Yet all of this could happen again. All of this will happen again, if not in the Gulf Coast,
somewhere in our country. Nature has a way of matching coincidence and crisis.
Maybe it’s not my place to make suggestions. Maybe they have thought all these things through, they exist and I
just haven’t found them or I missed them. But then again, maybe this may help.
FEMA needs to realize that we are a media centric culture. We look for information wherever we can find it. The
wider spread the communication, the more people will receive it and the more assistance, of the type that is needed,
can be offered. I can only speculate, but based on what I saw today, which I’m sure was repeated in cities around the
country, but millions, if not tens of millions of dollars in timely support was lost because people,
includingme were uninformed.
Once there is time available, whether it’s weeks, months or years, FEMA needs to organize a disaster information
network of websites, phone numbers, Txt messages ping numbers and media outlets. When FEMA declares an
emergency,then every DMA impacted, or that could be a source of aid, the network would kick in.
Jeff Jarvis does a great job in his blog encouraging a coordinated
effort on the web to help those impacted by a disaster find information. WhatI detail below is geared
towardsgetting information in different ways to those who need it.
1.I would set up a Common Short Code wireless number. Common Short Codes are the short phone numbers you see
advertised for things like voting on American Idol that allow you to text message the number and get a response and
reply to it. Why should this be done? Because txt messages would reduce the inevitable stress on the wireless phone
system and would increase the ability ofpeople who are under duress and have their cellphones or PDAs to send
and receive information. That information could then be parsed and posted or reported whether through a website
or delivered per the instructions of the txt message. (ie, please call 214-555-2345 and let them know I am at this
Update Sept 6th
Per a WSJ article today, a formerFCC Task Force Member is quoted as saying that cellular companies should
encourage their users to use txt messaging and phone email. That a 12 line email or txt message takes as much
bandwidth as only 1 second of voice. In fact txt messaging was one of the few ways many could make any contact last
2. Rather than distributing a banner ad that encourages people to donate money, the banner ad should be rich media
and contain options and information in addition to a link to a website. In addition to the banner, FEMA.gov should
anRSS feeds that websites can addthat show ongoing updates about how to help, where to help and current
information about the event.
3. Just as we have Amber Alerts that are shared among media, FEMA should have the ability to distribute
information through local stations AND through media outlets, such as cable and satellite news networks, that are
part of their network that allow FEMA to distribute a shortvideo alert, in a format similar to an Amber Alert,
and also tofeed a crawl that the networks incorporate into theirever present crawls they all use now.
4. New technology allows the caller-ring
tones to be customized. Its not widely available yet, nor is it available on all networks, but it will be. I’m
sure if FEMA asked the carriers to add it to emergency numbers, it will happen sooner.
Calls to traditional emergency numbers should include pro active information in the ring. Rather than hearing our
traditional telephone ring, particularly at times when there may not be an answer, if and when the technology is up
to the task (I’m sure the wireless carriers can answer this), a message needs to be recorded, and changed to reflect
the status of the event as often as necessary.
I know there are many other things that could be suggested, but I think these things could improve
thecommunications that are critical to increasing the prevention, survival, recovery and support that
arecriticalin times of crisis.
I know I’m putting myself out there to be criticized. That’s the way it goes. That’s what this blog is for, to
share experiences and ideas. The comments are there so you can share your response and educate me.