On Saturday I helped an old man who was looking for his mentally retarded brother by helping him post the man's picture with a note. He explained that he had been quite a clubber until recently, and knew everyone around, although his brother had always stayed at home, and he was hoping that maybe someone would see his picture, and recognize the likeness between him and his brother, and make the connection. Today we learned that someone had seen his picture, gotten ahold of his sister, and he and his brother have been reunited! Today, I helped a man find his son. The last he had heard, parts of his family were still trapped in New Orleans, and he didn't know if his son was alive or not. He posted his information and his son's on one of the message sites, and checked it every day. Today, there was a response. He called the number, talked to his aunt, and found out his son was safe in Mississippi, got that number, and talked to his son. Although I have only been involved in a few such connections, the computer center here makes easily a dozen connections a day. Since space is so tight in our new building, the computer center is now in the middle of a hallway-- but our more public location has meant more connections. I think we scare the nearby food service lobby when we ring the cow bell that signals that a missing family member has been found and erupt in cheers.
Equally common, though, are the people who come to us looking for someone they know to be somewhere at Reliant Park (the Astrodome complex), often having come from far away, and who aren't able to find them. There are still entrance registration forms that haven't been entered into the database-- people that we don't even know are here. The Red Cross wasn't even going to include space for a computer or a paging center in the new building until we fought our way in. Decisions are made, and implemented (usually moments after the decision), but I've never gotten the sense that anyone is in charge. Without independent volunteers, the Astrodome would be a disaster of its own. Except for waste management, which is mostly phenomenal.
There are two women sitting behind a table in the Reliant Center, with a hand-written sign "Local and long-distance Transportation". I had them in the information system for days as the primary "Transportation Information" resource, but I didn't realize the connection when I was introduced to them. They had been associated with two different transportation organizations and were driven away by the incompetence. Now they are totally independent, but everyone knows that they're the people to go to, because they know everything there is to know and they'll do whatever they need to do to help.
Jim, one of the heads of the computer center has been repeating a simple story that deserves another repeat. A volunteer came to him and said that she really wanted to help an evacuee that she'd been working with, but didn't know who to she was supposed to go to. Jim response was, "You are the empowered person to help that woman." The volunteer said that she didn't want to break any rules-- Jim replied that there are no rules. So this volunteer found this woman housing, transportation to it, gave her her own money and drove her to the airport. And that kind of dedication isn't even uncommon.