By Joe Salkowski
The Arizona Daily Star
When a powerful explosion rocked the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, millions of people nationwide reacted with shock, horror and grief.
But Tucson resident Matthew Grossman responded with something more – a page on the World Wide Web.
Less than 12 hours after the deadly April 19 blast, Grossman had created a site on the worldwide computer network known as the Internet where computer users could find up-to-date information about the bombing.
“After I saw reports of the bombing, I spent half an hour looking around the Internet before I found any information about it,” said Grossman, a 20-year-old media arts junior at the University of Arizona.
“In disaster situations, many people are desperate for information,” he continued. “I realized that if it took me a half-hour to find something, new users might not be able to find anything.”
So Grossman came up with the Disaster Information Network, which provides users with news updates, pictures and quick, simple connections to a variety of other computers with more information about the blast.
After finishing the initial version of the program, he realized his personal computer equipment – set up in the home he shares with his parents – wouldn’t be able to handle the load of users who might want to access the service.
So he sent the program to the Phoenix offices of Internet Direct, a company that provides Internet access to computer users in Tucson, Phoenix and Albuquerque. Grossman works as a salesman and technician for the company.
Internet Direct posted the Disaster Information Network on one of its computers and gave it a place on the World Wide Web, a part of the Internet that supports pictures, graphics and links to other sites. Company employees also contributed to the site, f ine-tuning graphics and updating links to information about the deadly explosion.
Computer users worldwide can access the Disaster Information Network for free at this address: http://www. disaster.org/. Nearly 89,000 people had checked into the site as of Friday morning, computer records show.
“We figured that being here in Arizona, this was about the best way we could help,” said Jason Ayers, director of graphic design for Internet Direct. “It’s just nice to feel like you’ve done something.”
The company also has lent space on its computers to help ease the burden of calls to Oklahoma City Internet providers that have posted information about the blast. Many calls to those providers now lead users to files maintained at the Internet Direct’s Phoenix offices.
When demand for information about the Oklahoma City blast subsides, Internet Direct plans to keep the site open as a resource for information about earthquakes, floods or other future disasters.
“We view it as a way of giving back to the Internet community,” Grossman said. “There’s a lot of controversy over the commercialization of the Internet, which used to be purely academic. But we’d like to show that commercialization can have a good side.”