Tech Industry's Tsunami Relief Efforts Pick Up

Amazon collects more than $1.6 million in donations as big companies and bloggers do what they can to help in the wake of southern Asia's devastating tsunami.
Posted December 29, 2004

Jim Wagner

As the official death toll from the tsunami in southern Asia grew, tech players were offering any aid and support they could in response to devastation.

Fortune 500 companies and individual bloggers were offering donations and free services in order to support relief operations to the stricken regions across Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Somalia, Sumatra, Thailand and Somalia.

Paul Roberts, director of Hong Kong-based ForgetMeNot Software, said the company is donating free SMS messaging via its ChatBar service to anyone in the affected region or anyone trying to reach a person in the countries impacted.

The ChatBar service is available on Internet-connect PCs as well as mobile phones. It's browser-based, and the recipients don't need to be signed up to the service before receiving the SMS messages.

"We are all shocked and stunned by the devastation wrought by the earthquake," he said in a statement Wednesday. "In an effort to help, we wanted to make the functionality of ChatBar available free to everyone who needs to communicate with loved ones at this difficult time. Experience has shown that SMS messages may get through to mobile phones even though voice networks may be overloaded."

Users can download the ChatBar software to make contact here (English), here (Simplified Chinese), here (Traditional Chinese) and here (Tagalog).

Amazon's home page carried information about how customers could make a one-click donation to the American Red Cross for disaster relief assistance. According to the site, nearly 30,000 people have already made more than $1.6 million in donations through at press time, with the amount growing by the hour.

The service is anonymous for donations under $250, unless donors choose to release their name, e-mail address and amount donated to the Red Cross after the payment has been made.

Enterprise mobility software company Symbol , with operations in India, pledged $150,000 Tuesday to the Red Cross, Mercy Corps and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to help out with emergency relief; employees in India all donated one day's pay to the donation.

Australian telephone company Telstra said it would donate its phone service to non-government, not-for-profit organizations in Australia who are helping with efforts directly in the affected countries, as well as a rebate for Telstra mobile phone users in the area who made phone calls to loved ones in Australia or vice versa. The company is also donating $100,000 to Australian aid agencies.

Over at Google , the company has invested its Web search services to aggregate the latest Google mainstream news coverage on the tsunami and a page with links to Web sites where people can make donations.

The blogosphere is providing expertise in the area it does best, providing first-hand accounts of the devastation as well as a viral network for relief opportunities. While mainstream media reports on the disaster were sketchy at first, bloggers quickly jumped in and spread information after the tsunami's wake.

Other efforts were also taking shape:

  • Benjamin Rosembaum's blog journal has a table rating the effectiveness of relief organizations involved in the disaster, compiled from several watchdog organizations.
  • A post at thewirelessweblog from a person going by the name of Mike Outmesguine is helping create a Post-Tsunami Reconnect project with the Southern California Wireless Users Group (SOCALWUG) to send wireless equipment and technical expertise to the affected regions. It noted how, in the coming days, re-establishing communications will be as important an operation as providing food, shelter and water.
  • The Command Post weblog, one of the earliest blog sites to feature information and donation links, had updated its site Wednesday to include more relief organizations and ways for individuals to help.

  • The South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami blog at carried a new entry asking people to donate bottled water, first aid materials, canned goods, clothes and household items for the New Jersey Buddhist Vihara.

The New York Times also carried a list of relief organizations on its Web site.

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