Monday, August 30, 2010

Hurricane Katrina: A Real-Time Retrospective

I lived in New Orleans from August 23, 2000 to December 18, 2004. During those years I fell in love with the city and had my life forever changed because of it. While an education at Tulane University was the driving force behind my residency in New Orleans, a contributing factor was the city's thriving electronic music culture. As I transitioned from high school to undergraduate studies, my passion for electronica was perhaps only exceeded by my love of computers.

Given my interests, it wasn't long into the fall of 2000 before I discovered the Disco Productions Forum. This was an online message board hosted by the company of successful rave promoter, Disco Donnie Estopinal, and grew to be the preeminent virtual community of electronica enthusiasts in the Gulf Coast region. Although the central focus of the discussion board was electronic music, it came to be a hotbed for bantering about all things New Orleans.

When I moved to Delaware in early 2005 to begin my career as a Communications Officer at Dover Air Force Base, I still made daily visits to the Disco Forum to maintain a connection to New Orleans. As Hurricane Katrina approached the Gulf Coast in late August 2005, my wife & I breathlessly watched the cable news coverage from our apartment in Dover as the disaster unfolded. It was truly like witnessing a loved one being tortured in slow motion.

Aside from being glued to the television coverage from our vantage point some 1,200 miles away, we also frantically searched online for any news concerning the fate of the city. At the time, Facebook was still in relative infancy and Twitter did not exist. The Disco Productions Forum, however, turned into a virtual water cooler where all those from New Orleans or with ties to it gathered to swap stories and information.

During any disaster, an uncurated information clearinghouse will be peppered with hyperbole, misinformation, and emotionally-fueled tirades. It will also have some amazing insights, rich details, and first person accounts that a book or movie written about the disaster just cannot capture.

After nearly two weeks of living on the Disco Forum in the lead-up to and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I realized that these hundreds of posts written by individuals impacted by the storm told an amazing story. So on the evening of September 7, 2005, I spent about two hours saving all of the Katrina-related posts to my hard drive.

This morning after I watched the fifth anniversary coverage of Katrina on Meet The Press, I remembered that I'd captured some really unique content all those years ago and hadn't done anything with it. So I've spent the rest of this August 29, 2010 compiling those threads from the Disco Forum created during the chaos of Hurricane Katrina.

All of the nearly 150 threads linked below are as I downloaded them on September 7, 2005. I've sequenced and time-stamped them in the order they were originally created because I think it truly illustrates how consuming and spreading information during a disaster is a bit like being in the fog of war. The only modifications I've done are to change the links in multi-page threads so that page 1 properly links to page 2, page 2 to page 3, and so on. All posts and their respective content are the ideas and responsibility of their respective authors. Some of the posts are controversial, profanity-laden, or have come to be understood as untrue with the luxury of five years of hindsight. I am reposting them today because I believe they have some historical significance and serve as a valuable reference for those who study Hurricane Katrina, social networks, disaster preparedness, disaster response, and the influence of the media on our culture.

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