Students Create Web Site to Find Loved Ones
(The web site can be viewed at: < http://safe.millennium.berkeley.edu >)
The Daily Californian
Wednesday, September 12, 2001 - Following the aftermath of Tuesday's
tragic events in New York and Washington, UC Berkeley computer science
students moved quickly to start a Web site where people can search for
friends and relatives who are known to be safe.
The number of entries on the site has more than doubled in less than 24
hours, after it launched only seven hours after the first jet struck the
World Trade Center in New York City.
Two hours after starting work on the site, it was fully operational,
powered by UC Berkeley's "Millennium Cluster," a collection of 100
computers designed to operate in parallel.
"I think everyone was looking for some way to help. Everyone on the West
Coast feels very isolated," said Jennifer Mankoff, a UC Berkeley
computer science professor who assisted the students who constructed the
site. "We came up with something to help out."
The idea stemmed from Miriam Walker, a UC Berkeley computer science
graduate student, who had members of her co-op borrow her phone to try
to call the East Coast.
Walker said she realized that the volume of people trying to phone the
affected areas was making it impossible for anyone to receive proper
information. The overwhelming volume of calls were also hindering
She quickly called her friend, Ka-Ping Yee, also a UC Berkeley computer
science graduate student, to help her program the Web site.
"I just woke up because (another) friend called—I was walking around in
a daze, probably in disbelief," Yee said. "I came back and found the
phone message (from Walker). She had the idea to make this database, but
she didn't have a programmer. I ran into her office and did it."
Yee quickly learned PHP, a database programming language, while he
worked in order to get the site running.
"I was really really shocked about what happened. I didn't just want to
stand by and do nothing," Yee said.
Anticipating a large response to the database, Walker had contacted Eric
Fraser, the manager of the Millennium Cluster to help set up the site.
The Millennium Cluster is normally used to do supercomputing tasks, such
as astrophysics research, which requires a large amount of computing
power. The Web site is only distributed over 10 of the 100 computers in
"We thought we'd get a lot of traffic, but not this much," Fraser said.
"On the database, we've been getting about 100 queries per second. This
morning it had about 300,000 hits, now it's about 800,000. It's been
All members of the team worked diligently all Tuesday afternoon to
publicize the site and make sure that it functioned properly.
Each member of the team wants to help out with the disaster in any way
possible, and are thrilled at the Web site's success.
"I can see the impact that its had on other people's lives," Fraser
said. "The bigger the database is, the more helpful it is. I feel really
good about helping out in this way, using technology to do something to
have a social impact."
"People in my household seem to think that its a useful and reassuring
idea," Walker said. "Yesterday it was a way for us to deal with our own
horror and distress."
< http://www.dailycal.org/article.asp?id=6255 >
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