#VTResponse Takes Off In Irene’s Wake

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(Host) In the wake of Hurricane and Tropical Storm Irene, one social media Website launched by a young Winooski woman has emerged as the leader in aggregating volunteer information and coordinating the relief effort. VPR’s Kirk Carapezza has more on VTResponse.com.

(Carapezza) Sarah Waterman says at times she feels stuck behind her computer, watching Irene’s aftermath, with sections of Vermont obliterated by the unpredictable arithmetic of a storm.

Frustrated and tired, she just wants to pick up a shovel and help physically. But for now it’s here – posting digital messages to VTResponse.com – where she knows her small team of volunteers can do the most good in repairing her home state’s injured landscape.

(Waterman) We are getting all the calls for help to our inbox – some to our Twitter, now somehow our phone numbers are getting out there, so they’re coming to our phones. We are working as fast as we can to get every call for help up there."

(Carapezza) At 27-years-old, Waterman is the indefatigable architect of VTResponse.com. It’s a kind of clearinghouse of information for people looking to help or looking for help after Irene.

Waterman volunteered in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and she says the idea came to her Sunday night when she was talking to her parents in Montpelier, watching Irene pack a powerful punch.

(Waterman) "As the damage became apparent we realized it wasn’t going to be this placid little thing. I started to have the same feelings I had right before I left for Katrina – of wanting to help but not knowing how to help. And I didn’t want to watch that happen here."

(Carapezza) From her experience in Katrina, Waterman knows disaster relief can easily become a logistical nightmare. So she pitched the idea of using social media to connect people who wanted to help with those who needed it.

Her friend Matt Sisto is a UVM graduate and web developer, and Waterman told him to buy the "VTResponse" domain because it was trending on Twitter.

Since then, the site has had more than 200,000 hits, and Sisto says he’s been inundated with emails.

(Sisto) "People send in their contact information when they’re asking for help, and we put it out there. It’s a good thing, because I think we’re really helping people, although sometimes it’s tough to even see it because we take such a high volume of information and we don’t see the results as much. But every now and again we get an email saying, ‘Thank you so much. We got what we needed and that’s hugely rewarding."

(Carapezza) This is the second week of cleanup after Irene, and Waterman says VTResponse will encourage people to keep sending information. They’ll increase their bandwidth, and double their volunteer staff as they roll out a special service just for farmers hit hard by Irene.

For VPR News, I’m Kirk Carapezza in Burlington.

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