September 5th, 2005

Nobody expects...

On Saturday evening, the Spanish Inquisition suddenly burst into my room.

Notice the comfy chair.

See the one in the middle? That's Donn. He brought The Rack. Get it?

The Katrina People Finder Project.

I spent most of my weekend working with folks from CivicSpace, Salesforce, Earthlink, and the Social Software Foundation to develop the People Finder Interchange Format, which is intended to help the various missing-person databases exchange and pool their information. The Katrina People Finder Project will be using it as the interchange format for all their data.

With the database that Miriam Walker and i hastily put online for September 11, the two biggest problems were the inability to ascertain the reliability of records and the inability to update or remove records. The reliability problem became more severe as i started importing information from other databases; at its busiest, the September 11 database was slurping records from around 10 or 12 other databases, mostly by scraping their web pages.

PFIF provides a standard way to transfer records between databases, while addressing these two big problems. To help establish the reliability of a record, PFIF includes fields to identify the person who entered the data and the source where the data originated. To handle updates, PFIF provides a second record type, a timestamped update record, for posting information that changes over time. PFIF assumes a post-only universe: you can't go back and change something that was previously posted; you can only post an additional update. In a way, PFIF's person-with-notes model parallels a blog's entry-with-comments model.

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The Katrina People Finder Project could use your help.


The news media finally start calling for accountability.

On Nightline, Ted Koppel laid into Michael Brown for FEMA's lack of preparation:
Brown: "The other thing that really caught me by surprise was the fact that there were so many people — and I'm not laying blame — but either chose not to evacuate or could not evacuate. And as we began to do the evacuations from the SuperDome, all of a sudden literally thousands of other people started showing up in other places. And we were not prepared for that. We were surprised by that. And so what we've done is we have ramped up the rescue efforts to get those people. ... We're gonna take care of these victims. We're gonna make it right. We're gonna make certain, we're gonna make absolutely certain, that the devastation that has been wreaked upon these people is taken care of and that we get their lives back in order."

Koppel: "Mr. Brown, some of those people are dead. They're beyond your help. Some of these people have died because they needed insulin and they couldn't get it. Some of the people died because they were in hospitals and they couldn't get the assistance that they needed. You say you were surprised by the fact that so many people didn't make it out. It's no surprise to anyone that you had at least a hundred thousand people in the city of New Orleans who were dirt poor, who don't have cars, who don't have access to public transportation, who don't have any way of getting out of the city simply because somebody says, "You know, there's a force 5 storm coming, you oughta get out." If you didn't have the buses there to get 'em out, why should it be a surprise to you that they stayed?"

Meanwhile, politicians like Senator Mary Landrieu are busy patting each other on the back on national television. Disgusting.

Landrieu: "Let me just say a few things. Thank President Clinton and former President Bush for their strong statements of support and comfort today. I thank all the leaders that are coming to Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama to our help and rescue. We are grateful for the military assets that are being brought to bear. I want to thank Senator Frist and Senator Reed for their extraordinary efforts — Anderson, tonight, I don't know if you've heard, maybe you all have announced it — but Congress is going to an unprecedented session to pass a ten billion dollar supplemental bill tonight to keep FEMA and the Red Cross up and operating."

Cooper: "Excuse me Senator, I'm sorry for interrupting. I haven't heard that because for the last four days I've been seeing dead bodies in the streets here in Mississippi, and to listen to politicians thanking each other and complimenting each other — you know, I've got to tell you there are a lot of people here who are very upset, and very angry, and very frustrated, and when they hear politicians slap — you know, thanking one another, it just, you know, it kinda cuts them the wrong way right now. 'Cause literally, there was a body on the streets of this town yesterday being eaten by rats, because this woman had been laying in the street for 48 hours and there's not enough facilities to take her up. Do you get the anger that is out here?"
Where is the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, during this national crisis? In New York, buying shoes.