September 2, 2005

Internet access for Katrina's victims

Author: Steve Hargadon

Hurricane Katrina has left individuals and families with urgent needs,
and relief agencies will work hard to prepare food, clothing, and
shelter for them. However, a huge number will be unable to return to
their homes for weeks or even months. Free, readily available public
access to the Internet can provide a crucial lifeline for them during
this time.

Ultimately, the goal is to create the tools for immediate volunteer efforts to place public web stations in accessible areas after any
major disaster, anywhere in the world. Rather than needing to be coordinated centrally, this effort can be undertaken at the grass-roots level by individuals in affected areas.

The opportunity

Older computers, Pentium II level or above, can run as a Firefox web station (or kiosk), requiring only 128MB of RAM, a CD-ROM drive, a
network card, and access to an Internet-connected network. Schools, libraries, agencies, and businesses could easily and quickly provide
free public web stations to assist those displaced by the hurricane.

The computers needed are available in abundance for free or minimal
cost, and many organizations have an excess of these older computers
with no use for them. The technology needed to turn them into Web
stations is both free and effective, being based on the Linux
operating system and the Firefox Web browser. A single file is
downloaded and burned to a CD-ROM, placed in the CD-ROM drive of the
computer, and then the computer is booted from the CD-ROM. The
computer boots up directly to a Firefox Web browser window in less
than a minute, not requiring any keystrokes or skills to get there.

A working Web station would take no more than five minutes to set up, and
requires no ongoing maintenance except in the case of hardware
failure. In case of any difficulties, the machine is just rebooted.

We are creating a Web site to facilitate this effort, that will
hopefully become a resource not only during the coming weeks and
months, but will provide a basis for a long-term, global ability to
provide free internet access in emergencies:

What we need today

1. Volunteers to set up the Web stations in communities where those displaced by the hurricane will be housed. This involves
someone with the ability to download a small (60MB) version of a live CD -- that is, Linux that runs from the CD-ROM drive and doesn't
require the hard drive. Burn it to a CD-ROM, connect a monitor, mouse, and keyboard to the computer, and then connect the computer to an
Internet-capable network.

2. Organizations who will donate the computers, monitors, keyboards,
mice, and network cables. DIY Parts is acting as a clearinghouse for
the used equipment. As well, CompuMentor in San Francisco keeps a
list of non-profit computer refurbishment organizations that could
assist in locating used equipment.

3. Organizations to provide mirror sites for downloading the .iso image(s).

4. Web page help:

  • Someone who can build a quick database of volunteers--name,
    phone, cell, email, city, and state -- and a few simple PHP pages for
    others to locate local volunteers.
  • Someone to keep a Katrina portal page updated.
  • Someone to write up easy instructions for setting up a public
    Web station.

5. Someone to create a graphic file for a standardized banner/sign
that can be printed at Kinkos which easily identifies a public Web

6. Someone who can monitor the live CD and LiveKiosk projects and make
sure we continue to provide the most effective versions.

7. Grass-roots publicity volunteers: anyone willing to post a note
about project to mail-lists, news organizations, friends and family,

If you'd like to help, please go to and look for contact links.

Click Here!