Making a Connection

Kelly StephensJust days after Hurricane Katrina fizzled out somewhere over Eastern Canada, I saw in my inbox an email subject line beseeching me to donate money to the hurricane victims via the Red Cross. Unthink-ingly, I opened it.

Much to my disgust, the email had nothing to do with sending aid to the disaster victims, but instead entreated me to buy OEM software. A second email with a similar subject line advertised cheap meds from Canada.

It struck me as especially sad that a form of communication that was in such desperate need by many of the hurricane victims was being so abused.

The high winds were expected. Some even anticipated the subsequent flooding. But, it seems that after Hurricane Katrina, few were prepared for the near-total dissolution of the communication system.

Cell phones and electricity—and with it access to high-speed Internet, wide- and local-area networks, and television—failed in the days following the disaster. That lack of communication, accounted for many of the problems incurred, according to news reports.

Even 45 miles north of New Orleans, in Hammond, La, and 4 days after Katrina hit land, cell phones still were useless, according to Gary Vinyard, a biomedical electronics supervisor at North Oaks Medical Center in Hammond.
“We are doing OK here, but our communication is very limited. Cell phones do not work, and we are unable to dial long distance,” wrote Vinyard in a message posted on the Biomedtalk listserv on September 2.

Vinyard was posting to request information on satellite phones. And it was while reading some of the many replies to his request that I realized how energized the biomedical equipment community was to help in any way that they could. Dozens of messages were posted—some were requests and questions from those living in stricken communities, while others were generous offers of support from both individuals and medical equipment manufacturers, distributors, learning centers, and other organizations.

Technical service and support professionals in the Gulf Coast were virtually unplugged while the rest of the biomedical equipment technology community fastidiously rallied support via digital and wireless connections. This was technology put to good use.

As the Gulf area continues to salvage what it can and rebuild, I hope those lines of positive communication remain open. As part of that, if you were directly affected by the hurricane and are interested in sharing your experiences with the readers of 24×7, please call or write to me. By telling your story, others may learn how to best handle any disasters that might come their way.

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Kelly Stephens, Editor