Tech companies aid Katrina recovery

Technology companies are stepping up to provide technical expertise, communications equipment, money and other resources to state, local and federal government officials and relief groups coping with rescue and recovery efforts in areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Companies large and small are providing communications capabilities such as voice over IP and satellite phones that were lost when the hurricane hit early last week. First responders have said the coordination of rescue efforts has been impeded because the communications infrastructure in some of those areas has essentially been wiped out. Several companies are also helping their customers with business continuity efforts.

Intel officials said last week that they are donating 1,500 laptop computers to the American Red Cross and were helping to install 150 wireless Internet access points to provide local-area connectivity in shelters. Officials will try to provide high-speed capabilities wherever possible.

The infrastructure, expected to be operating now, will not only help aid workers coordinate needs and case management, but is also expected to help victims communicate with their relatives and gather information to improve their situation.

In partnership with Tropos Networks, MCI and SkyTel, Intel is also installing 50 Tropos 802.11 Wi-Fi mesh transmitters in the New Orleans downtown and airport areas.

MCI has deployed three of its self-contained emergency mobile communications vehicles in New Orleans and Biloxi, Miss. They are expected to provide free satellite-enabled Internet, telephone, wireless and fax capabilities to the public and emergency management officials. The company expects to dispatch another five communication trailers for use in other devastated areas.

Sun Microsystems technicians are installing communications infrastructure to expand connectivity to help evacuees and companies with business continuity efforts.

Mike da Luz, ESRIs solutions manager for forestry, fire and disaster management, said the geographic information systems (GIS) company is working with responders and relief agencies to update their software or applications. He said ESRI is also pushing out their requests, providing technical expertise to the Federal Emergency Management Agency at one of FEMAs sites, posting Web sites with names of GIS experts who are offering their services and contacting ESRIs clients in the affected area who may need assistance.

We dont produce data or imagery on our own, but what were trying to do is coordinate that as [data and images] become available, and were trying to push those out to who we believe can use them in the best mode, he said.

He said ESRI is also hosting Mississippis emergency management agency site because officials there are having problems using their GIS data.

The help isnt limited to communications equipment and expertise. St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Cyber Defense Systems is offering its unmanned aerial vehicles to help local, state and federal emergency law enforcement agencies monitor disaster areas for survivors, looters and safe areas.

Many companies are also donating funds, including matching employee contributions.

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