Rachel Falcone and Michael Premo previously worked with the national person-to-person documentary project StoryCorps, of public radio fame. They have been working on storytelling using social media around the housing crisis for the past five years, and when Hurricane Sandy hit they immediately saw a need to tell these stories, too.
So in partnership with MIT’s Center for Civic Media, they’ve launched StoryLine. at SandyStoryLine.com. They designed the platform to be available to people with or without Internet access; anyone can call in to (888)-803-9856 or send an SMS or picture to storyline [at] vojo [dot] com.
It’s powerful to hear people like Layana, a young girl who has lived in the Red Hook Houses public housing project for three years, tell their own stories. Her family lost power in the storm (some of the buildings in the project reportedly still don’t have power and most don’t have heat as of Wednesday, November 7) . "I was scared to death," she says. "I had to go up on the seventh floor. All the cars were covered in water. We can’t flush our toilets. Our nights are completely black."
Melissa, recorded at the Red Hook Initiative, an Occupy-organized relief site, says, "I’m charging up my mom’s mobile scooter and her cell phone so she can contact her doctors. Without the scooter my mom’s not going to be able to go nowhere … When [the water] finally reached my building … I got panicky. My hands were shaking. We watched the water rise up." Volunteers are sharing their stories too, of helping out with the recovery.
Going forward, says Falcone, the mission of Storyline will be to make sure that the most vulnerable victims of this disaster don’t fade from the public consciousness in the months and years of rebuilding to come. Months after Katrina, StoryCorps set up a free mobile recording unit in Jackson Square, in New Orleans’ French Quarter to record people’s firsthand accounts of evacuation and reunion while they were still fresh. StoryLine is aiming to leave a similar legacy, says Falcone.
"We know that the impact of the storm is going to be long-term, particularly in regards to people’s access to housing, health care, and employment. We think this is really important, to begin the work of documenting the long-term effects of the storm."