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The DEMO / Katrina Challenge

Since Hurricane Katrina raked devastation along the Gulf Coast, so many people have volunteered time and money to ease the suffering of the people and speed the recovery of this region. From afar, though, it's difficult to see how our checks and care packages are really making a difference.

Then, last week, I got an e-mail from a dear friend, a social worker in Massachusetts, who decided to go to Houston where she could work directly with victims of the storm. Almost daily, she's sent first-person accounts of the humanity -- and the chaos -- that she has discovered there, and I have posted these stories to my personal blog so that her insider's view can find a wider audience. Posting the entries seemed to me to be a simple way to help those of us beyond the borders of Texas and other most-impacted geographies to see the unfiltered reality of post-Katrina life, and perhaps to discover ways that we can help, even if from afar.

I'd also been thinking hard about how the DEMO community -- which comes together next week in Huntington Beach for DEMOfall -- could lend its considerable resources to support the victims of Katrina. Beyond more fundraising, I was hard pressed to come up with an original idea that would be truly useful to the displaced individuals of Louisiana and Mississippi. Then, I got last night's installment from my friend.

"Some of these folks need cell phones," she wrote. The seed on an idea: The Katrina Mobile Phone Project. The modest goal: Deliver 500 pre-paid cell phones into the hands of Katrina evacuees in the next two weeks.

Life in the Astrodome, as you'll learn reading my friend's accounts, is a daily grind of identifying and attempting to connect to resources. Many volunteers help track the answers to questions, but too often, the one in need has moved along before an answer can be given. A pre-paid mobile with a years service costs less than $100. Surely, putting mobile phones in the hands of victims and volunteers will speed the flow of information. And how much is that worth?
Over the next 24 hours, I'll be working out the details of the DEMO community can make that happen. If you want to help, send me an e-mail with "Katrina Mobile Phone Project" in the subject line. I'll forward specific instructions to you and will update this post as that information becomes available.

Thanks, in advance, for your generosity.

Chris Shipley is the executive producer of NetworkWorld's DEMO Conferences, Editor of DEMOletter and a technology industry analyst for nearly 20 years. She can be reached at Shipley, has covered the personal technology business since 1984 and is regarded as one of the top analysts covering the technology industry today. Shipley has worked as a writer and editor for variety of technology consumer magazines, including PC Week, PC Magazine, PC/Computing, and InfoWorld, US Magazine and Working Woman. She has written two books on communications and Internet technology, has won numerous awards for journalistic excellence, and was named the No. 1 newsletter editor by Marketing Computers for two years in a row. To subscribe to DEMOletter please visit:

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