Read the second chapter of P2P CEO Michael Fredrick’s book The Digital Recovery of Post Katrina New Orleans! In this chapter, the storm hits…
I remember watching the news from a nice, safe apartment in Memphis, blaring out of my shitty little TV. The devastation, the people on their roofs waiting for help. People gathered on a stretch of the I-10 freeway that I’d driven on countless times before, people driven out of their houses and into total uncertainty, hungry and exposed to the elements. The horrific imagery of Canal Street underwater. Everyone with any connection to New Orleans remembers these days all too well. It’s hard to say anything about the storm, almost 15 years later, that doesn’t sound cliché.
About a month after Katrina wreaked havoc upon New Orleans, I received the most important phone call of my life.
A friend and colleague, Bruce, called wondering if I still hosted websites. A few customers from a business Bruce had once worked for needed help. The business had lost everything in the storm and was folding, but there were a few high-priority customers that needed their sites to go online again as soon as possible.
And here it was: my call to action. I was working away in Memphis, designing websites, plying my trade. Waiting for something bigger to come along. And, overnight, it appeared. This was my call to action, my chance to contribute to something far bigger.
I was going to help New Orleans get back online.
Down in New Orleans, Bruce waded into chest-high water in the wrecked business’s server room. He recovered hard drives that stored tons of website files and databases. He boxed them up and shipped them to me in Memphis. To my surprise, there were over 300 folders storing websites on these hard drives. Websites that were currently offline, websites that someone had built and that people had used to connect with one another, before the hurricane knocked them offline. They only existed now in this form, as folders full of data, on a hard drive. In my apartment in Memphis.
Upon receiving these files, I was instantly put into a bind. The previous company had registered all of the domains with his company’s name and contact information. These were locked away in his account, which meant that all of the domain names were frozen in their current status. And, of course, there was no way to log into the company’s website to change the DNS or update contact information – their servers were underwater.
I tracked down the owner of the business, and he gave me the registrar login. He agreed to give me the hosting customers and files as long as I gave him a few of the domain names in his account and sent him back some of the data on the hard drive Bruce had mailed me.
So there we were, we had several hundred domains, all registered to a hosting provider who was no longer in business. There was no financial data – it was all in the same building with the servers, submerged.
I sat there, flummoxed. I had no way to find the owners of these websites. And then it hit me: every website has a contact page. Every contact page has an email address that we can write them at. Usually, I’d be able to use an excellent bit of technology called “email” to contact all of these businesses. But, just like all of their site data, their email data was on a server that had been taken down by Katrina. I’d have to revert to old-school methods.
I combed each website’s contact page for a good-old fashioned telephone number. Here I was, cold-calling strangers who were certain to be undergoing the trauma of a major natural disaster. My intentions were good: I wanted to help them restore their website. But what if they’d lost their home? What if they’d lost a family member? What if this stranger from Memphis, babbling about website files and servers, was exactly the last person they needed to hear from?
It had been over a month since the storm, and the people on the other end of the line were ecstatic to talk to me. I copied over their files, made some minor adjustments on the contact form page so that the email form worked, and set up a few email accounts. I had no billing system, no CRM system, no CPA, no credit card processing.
I told them they would get a bill shortly.
They asked me how much they’d owe me. I wasn’t prepared at all to manage the financial part of this operation. I stuttered because I didn’t know how much they were expecting to pay. I said I’d offer them the same rate they got from their previous guy, even though I had no idea what that rate was. It was barely a concern for me. What mattered was making the calls, getting the sites back online. It was an insane, chaotic time. I tore through the list of phone numbers. I got a site up and running, and then dialed the next number. Every customer was ecstatic, maybe a little flabbergasted that some techie in Memphis had swooped into their lives to restore a little piece of what they’d lost. This felt good, every single time.
The real fun came when I realized I could get certain people back on the line before our phone call even ended. Since I had access to the DNS of their domain name and a web server, I could set up hosting packages immediately. To our mutual delight, I was often able to turn a site back on while I speaking to the customer. This proved to be priceless in getting people back up. The whole process became an exhilarating challenge. How many businesses could I get back online, while still on the phone with their owners? How many people could I swoop in and help in one hour, in one day?
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