Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo


Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

{ action.text }

There are a lot of things I don’t understand about the government’s response to Katrina, and this story epitomizes it: a bunch of volunteer techies wanted to install and run a low-power radio station in the Astrodome, which seems like it could do a lot of good, yet they’ve been thwarted at every turn. After obtaining an FCC license, the group was asked to first procure 10,000 battery-powered radios (with batteries), because a local official was worried about “people fighting over the radios.” Moreover, they had to promise not to play any rap music, because there were concerns it would incite some of the evacuees to violence. Then they were denied because the Astrodome could not provide the power (which sounds specious). So they offered to run their equipment off batteries. Finally, the local official said she failed to see the utility of a radio system, instead preferring to communicate via the loudspeaker system (that must be pleasant) and newsletters. After that they gave up. But they learned a lesson that I’ve found works well in places where you’re trying to get something done: it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission:

“Last week you could just go right inside (the Astrodome),” said one volunteer who declined to be named. “We should have just set up then and gotten permission later.”

For a more positive-ending story about some geeks who were able to get a wireless network installed and running and have put some striken people back in touch with each other, have a read of this Washington Post article.

0 comments about this story. Start the discussion »

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives


Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me