Web Site Provides Relief for Germans Hit By Floods | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 20.08.2002
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Web Site Provides Relief for Germans Hit By Floods

The team running Dresden's official emergency Web site is putting in 24-hour days to get as much potentially lifesaving information as possible out to as many people as it can.


"Our work is as important as sandbagging"

As the usually small Weisseritz River roared into Dresden and swamped the western part of the city last Tuesday, few could have guessed the magnitude in which the natural disaster would grow.

Locals and people from all over Germany turned out to man the sandbag lines, pitching in with hard physical labour to counter the crisis. But others took the battle against rising waters online.

After floods knocked out the server of the city’s official Web site, authorities decided not to go back online with their usual site containing pictures of famed cultural attractions and tourists information.

Creating an emergency site

Instead, officials asked the private company contracted to run the city's site, www.dresden.de, to transform it into an emergency Web site providing round-the-clock information and updates for people impacted by the disaster.

"We soon realised that our work was as important as stacking sandbags", the company's executive director, Matthias Neutzner, told DW-WORLD.

Technical help poured in from all over Germany to set up the site. "Several companies, including the electric utility provider in Halle helped us out by providing extra servers," he said. "That helped to distribute the pressure on the server."

One-stop source for information on the disaster

By Thursday, the site was up and running, manned by a team of 20 workers who worked in 24-hour shifts to feed residents who still had access to the Internet with updates on the rising water levels of the Elbe River, the city's most dangerous locations, hotline numbers of health and other emergency services. They also included information on the latest evacuations, contact information for people wanting to make donations, reports on traffic and infrastructure conditions and donation accounts, report on traffic and infrastructure conditions.

The team also created a guestbook where people from all over the world could react to the catastrophe and express their support for the stricken residents of Dresden.

Tiring, but vital work

"Some of our workers worked non-stop for 48 hours. Obviously it was a very special situation", Neutzner said, describing the mood in the editorial department.

"It was also a bit strange because we were sitting in an office, so far away from the actual tragedy and carrying on our work. I had no personal impression of the disaster", he said.

But it was obvious that Neutzner and his team were doing crucial work judging by the number of people who logged onto the Web site soon after it was put up.

The site received 1.62 million clicks between Friday and Monday. "That’s how much we usually receive in a month", Neutzner said.

"Even though the editorial department must be exhausted, your reporting and news in the last few days was brilliant. It's the Internet at its best", reads an email from a Hamburg poster on the site.

Users also included a surprising number from Dresden. "We were surprised to find out how many people from the city wrote in to say how much they appreciated what we were doing. After all, we were reporting on evacuations and emergency services, too," Neutzner said.

"Your emergency pages were the only ray of light in the information barrage of the past few days", a simple email says.

Spontaneous help

The Web site also includes a spectacular photo documentation of the Elbe River’s dramatic rise last week -- showing it transform city spots and districts into water landscapes.

Neutzner said his editorial colleagues initially went out into the city armed with digital cameras. That soon became unnecessary as ordinary citizens, voluntary workers, firemen and the like began turning in photos that they had taken.

"We now have a huge collection of photos here in the office", Neutzner said.

The perfect medium in times of crisis?

Neutzner is now convinced that the Internet has "a huge potential in times of crisis".

He said the city's emergency flood site would remain online "as long as the city is still officially declared to be in a state of emergency".

After that, it will be archived as an official documentation of the worst disaster to hit Dresden since World War II.

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  • Date 20.08.2002
  • Author Sonia Phalnikar
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  • Date 20.08.2002
  • Author Sonia Phalnikar
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/2Zcx