Thursday, 01 September, 2005

Hurricane relief effort

I've been listening to the radio chatter about the hurricane relief effort.  In many of the affected areas, ham radio is the only means of communications with the outside world.  Power is out, phones are down, cellular and digital phone service is either inactive due to power outages or the resources are overwhelmed by so many people trying to call.  Amateur radio operators, operating strictly as volunteers, have set up their own equipment with batteries and emergency generators, portable radios and temporary antennas, and they're passing traffic.  I will probably end up working communications at a Red Cross shelter here or in Houston sometime in the near future.

This is an unprecedented occurrence in the U.S.  We're completely evacuating a major metropolitan area:  1.5 million people.  The majority of these people are leaving or have already left carrying just the clothes on their backs and whatever they could pack into their cars, SUVs, or minivans.  Their jobs are gone, at least temporarily.  They have no income, what little cash they had in their pockets when they left, and quite possibly no access to their savings.  Some will be able to stay with relatives or friends, but many--perhaps most--will find themselves in temporary shelters scattered throughout Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Arkansas, northern Louisiana, and other places.  This is going to be a long term relief effort:  months for sure, and some people will be living in temporary housing for a year or more.

It's easy to get distracted by the chaos:  looting, shooting at emergency and safety workers, thousands of people still trapped in their attics, lack of goods and services, and all the bad things that people do to others.  It seems that our fascination for the bad is some kind of internal relief:  "There but for the grace of God, go I."

It's more difficult, but also more satisfying and helpful, to concentrate on what you can do to help.  Donate time to a local shelter, or stop by the shelter on your way to work with some food, clean bedding, or other needed supplies.  Money is helpful, sure, but most of the people in those shelters don't need money right now.  They need basic necessities like food, diapers for their babies, toilet paper, clean towels, and something to keep their minds off the terrible situation they've found themselves in.

Please, do what you can to help out.