I'm wading through all the Katrina "information" online and way too much of it is simply divisive and frankly, totally unhelpful. For folks that are desperately looking for information on Katrina with possibly limited time and resources, it's worse than splogs (spam blogs) - it's infuriating. So I'm going to focus on what is helpful. Beginning with immediate disaster relief communication and information needs as I found out it is International Blogging for Disaster Relief Day.
As a survivor of the December 26th tsunami that is believed to have killed more than 220,000 people and left more than one million homeless, I'll say that survivors in most immediate need (whether huddled on the roof of their home or scrunched up in football stadiums) of natural disasters are rarely going to be in any position to get online - either at all, or when it happens for very long.
I was very lucky to get about 20-30 minutes a day online while in Thailand. Nope, I didn't follow any trackbacks or even read a fraction of my email. (Subject lines are crucial.) There might have even been offers for a place to stay in Phuket, but NO time for wading through reams and reams of data. I was furiously trying to email family, embassy, travel agency, etc. And squeeze "extra" time to blog what I could to help bring the dire situation to awareness in the developed world.
The online information immediately in the aftermath is mostly going to be useful for other family members trying to sort out information and the general public. At least, until WiFi and Internet-enabled cellphones (that are waterproof) are ubiquitous. I just don't see online resources as the highest priority for a survivor as it's not likely we're safely at our keyboards on a broadband connection when and after disaster strikes.
In an emergency, think: Cheap. Simple. Ubiquitous.
Perhaps cellphone SMS messages that go directly to a central wiki that is hosted by an large easy-to-remember-even-if-I-never-imagined-I-would-be-in-a-major-disaster organization whether it is Red Cross or Google?
What would have been helpful in the tsunami was a central phone number everyone has memorized to call in case of emergencies. I don't know if they have 911 in other countries. After the tsunami, people (those on boats, and high ground) still had cellphones. But no one knew who to call.
We managed to get to high ground eventually and find a resort with a working television set. Yet, there was absolutely no usable information for survivors. Ah, now I know a 8.9 earthquake hit. More photos of devastation. Hmm, tsunami. That explains the wall of water we frantically ran from. But it's all retrospective. And of little practical use.
We wanted to know if another wave was coming. Were there aftershocks? Which hospitals weren't damaged - i.e. do attempt to flag a boat to Krabi or Phuket hospital? Will we need money for medical care (i.e. now officially destitute in a foreign country)? It'd be nice if there was ONE television station you can turn to for survivor information.
More: A veteran editor is dismayed it took so long to find out information about his family members: "So much for all the hype about technological miracles and instant communications."
Actually, Dan Gillmor or Larry Larsen at Poynter Institute should be talking about this stuff. How can we make it easier for people to get localized information during disasters? Did my house survive? Where is government assistance best sent? Anything I can do to volunteer?
[Me wondering aloud: Weren't we collectively asking these very same questions on December 27th?]
And Staci is on the right track. Staci Kramer does a good job on raising questions and suggestions about aggregrating and managing information flow. I like her Google map database idea. The fact it is, the info now is unmanageable as it stands. Ad-hoc decentralization is wonderful for many things but centralization is needed in times like this. More of Staci's useful, helpful resources - including link blog & wiki. Bonus: Her 1993 Mississippi River flood perspective.
p.s. Don't forget to donate!