September 06, 2005
Let them keep their phone numbers

Via Dwight, a simple and elegant way to help evacuees and their loved ones find each other: Let them keep their old phone numbers.

Is it too much to ask Bell South to:

  • Let displaced account holders log in and claim their accounts (phone numbers) via the Internet. What's happening at the Astrodome?

  • Offer every subscriber in the devastated area a free soft phone with voice mail that replicates their old home number? Softphones that would do the job are available. If the numbers were transferable then Skype could probably scale a solution in just hours rather than weeks.

  • Drop the fee until the home line is up and running again?

  • Enable voice messages via e-mail if required.

  • Enable call forwarding if appropriate.

  • Provide copies of old phone bills? Help people reconnect with old friends, families, schools, employers, banks.

As Dwight notes, Skype is a VoIP provider, so all this may be easy for them to say. But still, it's a great suggestion and a natural extension of the idea used for Air America's Public Voicemail.

Following up on the report from the GRB by Melissa Noriega, here's the Chron story which categorizes Rick Noriega's involvement.

Houston government has historically partnered with the city's business community when it undertakes major projects.

That spirit, which drove much of Houston's development in the city's formative years, was tapped again when Mayor Bill White called on executives to help the city transform the George R. Brown Convention into a shelter for hurricane evacuees.

"The idea is to get the best person available, right here, for the job," said White, who has likened the relief effort to taking care of customers.

State Rep. Rick Noriega, a CenterPoint Energy executive and a Texas Army National Guard officer, for instance, was asked to run the convention center shelter shortly after returning from Kabul, Afghanistan, where he helped establish a training center for thousands of troops.


Noriega, who was about to return to his CenterPoint job after his stint in Afghanistan, was chosen when the mayor asked CenterPoint's CEO if he could be assigned to the evacuee effort at the convention center for 30 days.

CenterPoint officials agreed and went a step further.

"CenterPoint volunteered its entire volunteer force," Noriega said, a force that includes managers with years of experience handling emergencies.

The company also provided cots and ice, and bought and installed 80 showers.

And CenterPoint executives set up a computer system, with help from IBM, for processing evacuees as they arrived, and supplied walkie-talkies.

I've posted repeatedly on the things going on here in Texas and how you can get involved locally in assisting evacuees. I want to stress that these folks are going to be arriving in other places soon - Oregon, for example:

Gov. Ted Kulongoski said he signed an agreement Monday with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to accept [as many as 1000] evacuees and to receive federal funding for their care. Displaced residents might arrive as soon as Wednesday, but officials weren't certain.

Kulongoski said he will stay involved but wants the Red Cross to call the shots.

"If you know anything about what happened in New Orleans, it's that no one took charge," Kulongoski said. "Everyone was running around pointing their fingers at everyone. We're not going to repeat that mistake here."

Check with your local Red Cross to see if you're getting some new neighbors who'll need some assistance. Here's some info for folks in Illinois.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 06, 2005 to Hurricane Katrina | TrackBack