While reading an article on how NOLA.com blogs and forums helped to save lives after Katrina, I read the following.
"It was weird because we couldn’t figure out where these pleas were coming from," Donley told me. "We’d get e-mails from Idaho, there’s a guy at this address and he’s in the upstairs bedroom of his place in New Orleans. And then we figured out that even in the poorest part of town, people have a cell phone. And it’s a text-enabled cell phone. And they were sending out text messages to friends or family, and they were putting it in our forums or sending it in e-mails to us."
As we saw with the aftermath of Katrina though, there is one big problem with this approach. Everyone may go online but they have no idea where they are supposed to submit their disaster information. I mean about 80 to 90% of the sites I normally visit didn’t even mention the disaster. It was like it didn’t even exist for people (i.e. Not my problem or out of site, out of mind). Well I think spreading awareness of a disaster is critical. Even more important is spreading awareness of how people can go about submitting disaster information.
To resolve this problem of ensuring that emergency awareness had been spread to as many people as possible, I realized the best way to do this was to create some sort of clickable Emergency Awareness Banner that could be posted upon every site that chose to place it. Of course the Make Poverty History corner triangle banner and also Brian Alvey’s Red Cross corner triangle banner came to mind as good examples of this idea. Of course to maximize the potential of these banners, they should be implemented as soon as a disaster event occurs, if not even beforehand, assuming a warning has been given (i.e. hurricane inbound).
Even more important thoughly is the need for accessibility with these banners. Remember, if someone in a disaster area has a cellphone or PDA and they go online to try to figure out where they can submit disaster information, that Emergency Awareness banner should still be easily viewable and accessible from their small screen device. Hell, this should apply to accessibility for blind and deaf people who go online as well. These banners need to be as accessible to as many people as possible. It may seem like a funny thing to say to some people but utilizing web standards here could actually save lives.
BTW a side note to this post is something that someone mentioned jokingly I believe on a site I had visited. They said that they should have had planes flying over New Orleans relaying emergency information to people. This is actually not a bad idea. Imagine a plane flying over New Orleans with just a large banner and an email address printed on it (i.e. firstname.lastname@example.org). People down below would see the email address on the large banner and then be able to text message in their situation using their cell phone and indicate if anyone was in urgent need of medical assistance.