Finding Loved Ones: Leadership Needed

September 2nd, 2005

2005.09.02-13.32.21/tornado.jpgErnie the Attorney posted a friend’s suggestion about having a single Internet site that people can use to locate family or friends displaced in a natural disaster like hurricane Katrina. Ernie lists three sites, but his friend claims there must be a dozen. If you’re trying to find someone, or help someone find you, are you supposed to visit all of them?

This is another example of how little we have learned since 9/11, or of how little we have acted on what we learned. One of the heartbreaking sights during that tragedy was of people driving hospital to hospital trying to locate someone who had been in one of the two fallen towers. In the nearly four years since then, why has no one within FEMA seen the need to provide some means of uniting friends, neighbors, and families strewn asunder by the chaos of disaster?

Over lunch, I vented my spleen about how inexcusably lax the federal government’s response has been to the aftermath of the hurricane. But that post was about traditional response: the need to supply food and water, to evacuate the homeless, to keep order. What I’m talking about tonight is the need for creative thinking about ways to use modern technology to solve a problem that’s a major source of stress, tension, and anxiety for the people affected by a disaster like Katrina: simply not knowing where your loved ones are and how they’re doing.

But technology is not the problem; the technology is fairly easy. The problem is leadership. That’s why we have umpteen “where are you” web sites instead of just one: because FEMA is not leading, but following. Visit the FEMA web site and you’ll find a link leading you to the dozen or so sites that are trying to put people back together with family and friends. Too many choices are no choice at all.

A lot of people, myself included, like to complain about how badly messed up things can become when the government gets involved. This, though, is one of those situations where the government needs to provide leadership. FEMA should choose just one of the many sites and link to it, or provide a site of its own, perhaps And FEMA should encourage every news site and weblog around the country to link to the one central site.

Leadership is about getting out in front and showing the way. What we’re getting from FEMA is not leadership. We deserve better, but what are the chances that we’ll get better from FEMA in the next major disaster? No, I’m not counting on it either.

3 Responses to “Finding Loved Ones: Leadership Needed”

  1. Todd Hornsby Says:

    I’m in total agreeance with you on the need for a clearinghouse of information for uniting people after something as horrible as this disaster. I’m a photographer and the first thing I thought of was a website that uses digital pictures taken of survivors coupled with a database of information so these people can be found by friends, family or anyone who wants to know who they can help. The internet is a great way of connecting people together, but as you pointed out, we need LEADERSHIP from the people that are in a position to do something on such a grand scale quickly.

  2. Uneasy Rhetoric » Blog Archive » Role of Government Says:

    [...] y” registries out there (like this one). While a good idea in theory, the commenter rants on his own site, rightfully, that too many registries are just as bad as none: If you’re tryi [...]

  3. Bonnie Cooper Says:

    If you want a feel for how out of control the problem of Katrina Missing websites has become visit my website. I list official and unofficial resources for finding the missing. I also had a missing forum for a few days but took it down because it quickly became obvious that there was a need for one central OFFICIAL registry. I continue to search for unofficial forums as a service to the 2000 visitors and 500 newsletter subscribers at my web site. They are still popping up even a week after the event, when official resources exist.