Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

A View from David Appell

Techies Helping Out (if Allowed)

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…

  • September 9, 2005

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.

The AI revolution is here. Will you lead or follow?
Join us at EmTech Digital 2019.

Register now
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Print Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.