Saturday, September 03, 2005

Matching Katrina victims and families: General Delivery, and cell phones

CNN just reported that the USPS has created a new ZIP Code for refugees at the Astrodome.

People can send mail to:

[name of person]
General Delivery
Houston TX 77230

What a simple yet clever idea! The address of "General Delivery" has a rich history: someone could travel to a town, inform friends and family that they would be there for a while, and pick up mail at the post office addressed only to their name with the "General Delivery" address.

An idea over 150 years old that could match people to their loved ones. Bravo to the USPS!

The problem of helping relatives contact loved ones who lived in New Orleans is massive. The former mayor of New Orleans says his wife's mother, elderly and infirm, cannot be reached. They do not know if she has been saved or has perished. If a former mayor can't get vital information about a loved one, who can?

There are many attempts to use the Web to match refugees with family members. (One of the major ones is the Red Cross site at: http://www.familylinks.icrc.org/katrina ). But how many refugees have access to the Internet in order to register? Suggestion: a major cell phone provider offers free phones and three months of free service to refugees. The cost to the company would be minimal, but the benefits to victims could be extraordinary.

To make the cell phone scheme work in both directions, you'd have to set up a registry of names and numbers; there is no directory assistance for cell phones. With a registry, a relative or friend could call an 800 number, ask for the phone number for John Q. Smith, get a cell number to call and hopefully connect with a loved one.

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