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Graduate student collaborates with local volunteer team to launch Louisiana Flood Recovery website

The recent Louisiana floods gave dual degree graduate student, Miriam Eisenstat an opportunity to put into practice what she has been learning in her Master of Social Work (MSW) and Master of Science in Disaster Resilience Leadership studies. In the time frame of six days, Miriam became a member of an impromptu team of volunteer New Orleanians who came together to conceptualize, build and launch a website called Louisiana Flood Recovery at http://lafloodrecovery.org/ which is an open-source, living directory that connects flood survivors with effective flood relief and recovery organizations, and volunteers with opportunities to help.

Like so many of her fellow New Orleanians, Miriam felt immediately compelled to volunteer to assist flood survivors in the twenty-parish region. Using the local network provided to all students at the School of Social Work's Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy (DRLA), Miriam initially found volunteer opportunities with DRLA's formal community partner, Evacuteer, a New Orleans organization that recruits, trains, and manages evacuation volunteers (Evacuteers) who assist with New Orleans' public evacuation option.

Evacuteer's Executive Director, Kali Rapp Roy, an alumna of DRLA Master's program, worked with her organization to transfer their resources to partner with Baton Rouge's Trinity Lutheran Church and created a volunteer registration form on the Evacuteer website. Miriam signed up and started gutting and mucking out homes in Baton Rouge in the first few days after the floodwaters receded.

Miriam was glad that she had a network to tap into quickly to start volunteering manual labor but she also wanted to find a way she could contribute the disaster resilience and social work knowledge and quantitative and qualitative data skills and she had been developing through her course work and while interning with another DRLA community partner, The Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an environmental health and justice organization.

Her search ended on the evening of Saturday, August 20th, when a friend, Eli Silverman, founder of a local branding and web development shop, Caliper, put out a general call to colleagues on Facebook and to Miriam in particular. Eli was looking for volunteers to join him, and fellow web developer, Gifford Nowland of Westguard Solutions to get a Louisiana Flood Recovery website that they had been prototyping for the previous two nights up and running quickly. Frustrated by the lack of a one-stop, comprehensive web resource that showed what services are currently available for survivors and volunteers, Eli knew that he needed to quickly assemble a diverse team with experience in coding, disaster response, copywriting, mapping, design, marketing and community outreach to bring the website to realization on an accelerated timeline.

Miriam responded immediately. Three other New Orleanians responded to Eli's call as well: Erin Allen, a web and graphic designer at Zehno, Adam Mejerson, co-founder of the non-profit organization, FitLot who studied disaster recovery at Loyola University of New Orleans and James A. Reeves, a writer, educator, and designer at Motorway.

The process started on Monday night, with a team brain-storming meeting  about the website requirements, information architecture and design drafted in a collaborative Google Doc. Next came building Excel worksheet databases where team members began to identify, organize and collect data regarding recovery needs such as funds, housing, food and goods, labor and other services and which organizations were currently involved in the many facets of flood recovery. While those with web development and design experience expanded the prototype WordPress site, Miriam, Adam and Erin started doing web research to collect data about what information had already been published from social media, organizational websites and news outlets. That work was quickly followed by direct outreach to organizations via email and telephone. Miriam noted that "communications were siloed and that there was no unified response." The DRLA faculty was especially helpful at this point in the process, Miriam said. She had conversations with Ky Luu, George Haddow and John Edwards asking them to identify organizations and individuals in their networks who could fill in the gaps of information. The outreach team then contacted organizations and asked them to identify their immediate and long term needs. Repeatedly, the team was amazed by how quickly these over-taxed organizations responded and supplied information and were enthusiastic to contribute to the project.

By Friday morning, August 26th, the tireless team launched the website, Louisiana Flood Recovery, a collection of resources for people to find and give help. The website home page asks a site visitor to immediately identify him or herself as someone who needs help or who wants to help and the site architecture guides the visitor accordingly. The team strived to create a site that would allow visitors to get to the information they need clearly and easily. All content is heavily tagged with key words to make sure that visitors can search for and locate specific information in their area and for their given situation. Google Maps are provided for each organization location. Additionally, the site has an "Add An Organization" web form that allow organizations to submit their information which will then be reviewed by the team and added to the collection.

In preparation for the launch of the Website, a Facebook page, Twitter and Mailchimp account were created to help get the word out and now the team has produced printed cards with one side that says, "Need help?" and the other, "Want to help?" to be distributed in affected areas by volunteers they are now recruiting. To get involved please sign-up by filling out the Louisiana Flood Recovery's volunteer form.