TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: For Victims, News About Home Can Come From Strangers Online

For Victims, News About Home Can Come From Strangers Online

Monty Solomon (
Mon, 5 Sep 2005 11:49:03 -0400


SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 4 - On Friday afternoon, Leonard Sprague, a
general contractor in Gainesville, Fla., saw the electronic plea.

"I hope someone can help," someone using the name ZuluOne wrote to an
online bulletin board. "I am trying to get a current overlay for the
area around 2203 Curcor Court in Gulfport, Miss."

Mr. Sprague knew that "current overlay" meant a bird's-eye view. And
an altruistic impulse combined with an urge to play with a new
technology propelled him into action. Using his PC, he superimposed a
freshly available posthurricane aerial photograph over a prehurricane
image of the same neighborhood. After 15 minutes, he had an answer.

"Actually, it looks like your house looks pretty good," Mr. Sprague
told ZuluOne by e-mail. "Unfortunately, it doesn't look so good for
some of your neighbors. Best of luck to you and your family."

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, hundreds of displaced residents
and their relatives -- along with people like Mr. Sprague -- have
turned to the Internet for information about a home feared damaged or
destroyed. Many are using Google Earth, a program available at the
Google Web site that lets users zoom in on any address for an aerial
view drawn from a database of satellite photos.

By the end of last week, a grass-roots effort had identified scores of
posthurricane images, determined the geographical coordinates and
visual landmarks to enable their integration into the Google Earth
program, and posted them to a Google Earth bulletin board -- the place
ZuluOne turned for help.

Most of the images originated with the Remote Sensing Division of the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has been
posting them to its Web site since Wednesday.

Taking inspiration from the online volunteers, Google, NASA and
Carnegie Mellon University had by Saturday night made the effort more
formal, incorporating nearly 4,000 posthurricane images into the
Google Earth database for public use.

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