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Hurricane Hugo, shortly before making landfall in South Carolina. [Source: U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,]The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is strongly criticized for not providing adequate relief to the victims of Hurricane Hugo, a Category 5 storm that hit near Charleston, South Carolina. The storm causes billions of dollars in damage, displaces tens of thousands, and leaves hundreds of thousands jobless and without power. After the storm passes, FEMA is slow to take action. The first FEMA relief office opens a full week after the storm hits. Once the agency moves in, red tape, minimal resources, and poor management bog down the relief efforts. Senator Ernest Hollings (D-SC) bluntly describes FEMA’s hierarchy as a “bunch of bureaucratic jackasses” that should just “get the hell out of the way.” Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. criticizes FEMA for not bringing enough people or resources to his city. The relief system established by FEMA, he says, “is not designed to cope immediately and urgently with a major disaster.” Robert Hoffman, the mayor of St. Stephen in Berkeley County, says: “I really had more faith in our government.… We’re in serious trouble if FEMA is going to be the [lead] organization in the event of a nuclear war.” Unbeknownst to most of the public and government, the majority of the disaster agency is preoccupied with developing plans for a nuclear doomsday as part of the highly classified Continuity of Government program (see April 1, 1979-Present). [Associated Press, 10/1/1989; Washington Post, 10/4/1989; National Weather Service, National Hurricane Center, 8/1/2005]
Damage from Hurricane Andrew, in Dade County, Florida. [Source: Greenpeace]Approximately three years after facing harsh criticism for its response to Hurricane Hugo (see September-November 1989), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is denounced for not providing adequate relief in the wake of Hurricane Andrew. The storm, which devastates regions of southern Florida and Louisiana, claims dozens of lives, leaves up to a quarter million people temporarily homeless, and causes more than $26 billion in damage. [National Hurricane Center, 12/10/1993; National Hurricane Center, 8/1/2005] Nearly a week after Andrew passes, local officials and citizens in the hardest hit areas are still waiting for assistance from the federal government. Days after the storm, the New York Times reports it is still “unclear just who is in charge of the Federal relief effort.” [New York Times, 8/27/1982] “Blame for the government’s delayed response to Hurricane Andrew is being placed squarely at the feet of the Federal Emergency Management Agency,” the Associated Press reports. Even after FEMA moves in, relief is delayed by a lack of resources and bureaucratic red tape. [Associated Press, 8/29/1992] In some cases, the agency brings equipment designed for a nuclear war instead of basic supplies. When the city manager of Homestead, Florida, requests 100 hand-held radios, FEMA is only able to provide high-tech mobile command vehicles (see 1982-April 1994). As Cox News Service will later report: “FEMA sent high-tech vans, capable of sending encrypted, multi-frequency radio messages to military aircraft halfway around the world.… FEMA equipment could call in an air strike but Homestead never got its hand-held radios.” Franklin, Louisiana, which is reportedly “flattened” by the storm, is similarly offered a communications vehicle instead of basic relief. “They offered a mobile communications unit and I told them that was unacceptable,” says Representative Billy Tauzin (D-LA). Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) says the government’s response to the storm is “seen by many of Hurricane Andrew’s victims in Florida as a disaster itself.” Unbeknown to most of the public and government, FEMA is secretly preoccupied with preparations for a nuclear doomsday (see April 1, 1979-Present). [Associated Press, 8/29/1992; Cox News Service, 2/22/1993]
Governor Mike Foster (R-LA) endorses the Coast 2050 plan (see December 1998) to spend $14 billion over a 20 to 30-year period to rebuild Louisiana’s coastal wetlands as a means of protecting the mainland from the full destructive force of a major hurricane. [Chronicle of Higher Education, 4/26/2002]
The US Department of Health and Human Services announces that it has released $126 million for disaster related expenses. The figure includes $10.4 million for environmental hazard control to pay for worker safety measures, technical assistance for responding to hazardous environmental exposures, and potential needs related to exposure to contaminants. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 9/21/2001]
US District Judge Richard W. Roberts extends, by five days, a temporary restraining order (see January 11, 2002) against the EPA, prohibiting the agency from implementing plans (see Morning November 27, 2001) to transfer the function of the EPA’s national ombudsman to the Office of Inspector General (OIG). [Associated Press, 4/8/2002]
In a six-page letter to the congressional conference-committee charged with combining the House (see April 21, 2005) and Senate (see June 28, 2005) versions of the 2005 Energy Policy Act (HR 6), Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman expresses the Bush administration’s strong opposition to a provision that would grant coastal oil-producing states like Louisiana a share of the royalties from offshore oil and gas operations. Historically, the royalties have been paid exclusively to the federal government. [Houma Today, 7/21/2005; Houma Today, 7/23/2005; Salon, 9/1/2005] Bodman writes in his letter that “The administration strongly opposes” the new funding. “These provisions are inconsistent with the president’s 2006 budget and would have a significant impact on the budget deficit.” [Salon, 9/1/2005] The statement also says, “The administration recognizes that coastal Louisiana is an environmental resource of national significance and has worked closely with the state of Louisiana to produce a near-term coastal wetlands restoration plan to guide how the next phase of restoration projects in Louisiana will be identified, prioritized, and sequenced.” [Houma Today, 7/21/2005] Craig Stevens, the press secretary for the Department of Energy, later explains to Salon: “We didn’t object to the idea in principle. [Rather, we objected to] part of the way it was crafted.” [Salon, 9/1/2005] Bodman also takes issue with the House’s WRDA bill (see April 13, 2005). WRDA, or the Water Resources Development Act, provides federal authorization for water resources projects. The House bill would require the federal government to pay 65 percent of the cost of the Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) restoration project, leaving the remaining 35 percent for state and local governments to pay. “The cost-share paid by the general taxpayer for the Everglades restoration effort is 50 percent, and this should likewise be the maximum federal contribution for the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway and coastal Louisiana restoration efforts.” If the Fed’s portion of the bill were 65 percent, the letter argues, it would “create expectations for future appropriations that cannot be met given competing spending priorities within the overall need for spending restraint, including deficit reduction.” Adam Sharp, spokesman for Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), notes however that the 50-50 cost-share formula for the Everglades is an exception to the Corps’ practice, not the rule. Indeed, in January (see January 2005), the Corps recommended the 65-35 cost share formula in its report on the coastal plan to Congress saying that such a split would be “consistent with existing law and Corps policy.” [Houma Today, 7/21/2005]
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-LA) warns colleagues in Senate that US must invest in flood control projects in Louisiana in order to avert a major natural disaster in the event of a hurricane making landfall in Southern Louisiana. “I want to speak this morning about what we can do here in Washington a little better, with a little more energy, with a little more focus to help the people in Louisiana and throughout the gulf coast area. Not only do they deserve our help, but because of the energy industry and the economic benefits they bring to the whole country, they not only need our help, they deserve our help. They deserve our attention…. We are talking about severe devastation when a Category 3 or Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane pushes that water out of the gulf, out of Lake Pontchartrain into the tremendously populated areas around the gulf coast.… We are in Iraq, in an important battle, but part of our objective there is to secure an oil supply for the region and for the Nation and to use that for the betterment of the people of Iraq, for their growth and development and the security and stability of the world, as well as to fight for other issues. We are fighting to get 1 to 3 million barrels out of Iraq, and right here in the Gulf of Mexico, today, we have a facility that has virtually been shut down because of a hurricane. Nearly a million barrels is being imported in this country, and exported, a year.… My point is, I hope we will again use this opportunity to focus on the critical infrastructure needs necessary for Louisiana and the gulf coast of Mississippi and Alabama primarily to protect itself not just from homeland security threats from terrorists but real threats of weather.… Yet time and time again, when Louisiana comes to ask, ‘Could we please have just a portion of the revenue that we send?’—we are not asking for charity; we are asking for something we earned; we are happy to share with the rest of the country to help invest in infrastructure—we are told: We cannot do it this year. We do not have enough money. It is not a high enough priority.… Well, I do not know when it is going to get to be a high enough priority. I hate to say maybe it is going to take the loss thousands of lives on the Gulf Coast to make this country wake up and realize in what we are under-investing.… We also have a bill through the WRDA legislation, which is the traditional funding for the Corps of Engineers, the federal agency primarily responsible to keep the waterways dredged, to keep the levees up as high as possible, to work with our local flood control folks, particularly our levee boards in Louisiana, which are some of the most important public entities we have, that literally keep people dry from heavy rains and from floods and storms of this nature.… We need our federal government to understand that we are happy to share our resources and riches with the world, but we do deserve a greater portion of these revenues to keep our people safe, to keep our infrastructure intact, and, most certainly, to be respectful of what the people of Louisiana and the entire gulf coast contribute to our national well-being and security. .. [A]s a Senator representing the State of Louisiana, the chances of it happening sometime are pretty good. If we do not improve our transportation evacuation routes, invest in protecting this infrastructure, and focusing on reinvesting some of the tremendous wealth that has been taken from this area, and reinvesting it back, we will only have ourselves to blame.” [US Congress, 9/15/2004, pp. S9257-S9260]
The Journal of Climate publishes a paper by hurricane expert Robert Tuleya and NOAA climate scientist Thomas Knutson suggesting that an increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may increase the intensity of hurricanes. Knutson’s study is based on computer analysis performed at the Commerce Department’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J. The two scientists created some 1,300 virtual hurricanes using a more powerful version of the same supercomputer simulations that the NOAA uses to track and predict the behavior of real hurricanes. The New York Times reports that according to independent experts “this study is particularly significant… because it used half a dozen computer simulations of global climate, devised by separate groups at institutions around the world.” MIT climate scientist Kerry A. Emanuel says Knutson’s study “is by far and away the most comprehensive effort” to analyze the issue using computer simulations. [New York Times, 9/30/2004; Tuleya and Knutson, 2005 ]
The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), an international study four years in the making, warns that the Arctic is warming “at almost twice the rate as that of the rest of the world.” According to the study’s overview report, presented at a conference in Reykjavik, Iceland, the melting of sea ice and glaciers are a clear sign that the climate is undergoing drastic, possibly irreversible, changes. The study predicts that all ocean ice could disappear some time between 2060 and 2100. As more and more ice melts, temperatures are expected to increase at a quicker pace because of a positive feedback loop: higher temperatures melt more ice, exposing more ground which, unlike ice, absorbs the sun’s heat, thus increasing the temperature even more. The Arctic’s melting “will drastically shrink marine habitat for polar bears, ice-inhabiting seals, and some seabirds, pushing some species toward extinction,” the study’s 139-page overview report says. Another potential impact of the melting ice would be the release of carbon-rich methane gas currently locked in the permafrost. Scientists are also worried that the fresh water pouring off the melting glaciers will disrupt the North Atlantic Ocean conveyor current which brings the warmer Gulf waters to the Northern Atlantic keeping the region warmer than it would be otherwise. The report was commissioned by the Arctic Council, an international forum made of the eight countries that border the region: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the US. Six circumpolar indigenous peoples’ organisations are also represented in the council. Arctic warming is changing the ecology of the region in a way that is threatening the livelihoods of circumpolar groups like the Inuit and Athabaskans. The study’s findings—based on the work of more than 300 scientists and five different computer models—are contained in a 1,200-plus- page, fully referenced scientific report that underwent a rigorous peer-review process prior to publication. [Arctic Council, 11/2004; BBC, 11/2/2004; Independent, 11/11/2004; Reuters, 11/8/2005; One World, 11/9/2005] The study was actually completed months before its release on November 8, but was delayed by the Bush administration until after the elections, according to Gordon McBean, an ACIA participant from the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction at the University of Western Ontario. [Inter Press Service, 9/10/2005]
Speaking before his colleagues in the House of Representatives, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-LA) expresses concern about what would happen if a large hurricane were to hit New Orleans. “What would have happened if last September, Hurricane Ivan had veered 40 miles to the west, devastating the city of New Orleans? One likely scenario would have had a tsunami-like 30-foot wall of water hitting the city, causing thousands of deaths and $100 billion in damage. The city has always been at risk because of its low-lying location, but that risk has been increased because of rising sea levels, groundwater pumping and the erosion of coastal Louisiana. Twenty-four square miles of wetland disappear every year, since the 1930s an area one and a half times the size of Rhode Island washed away. Considering the reaction of the American public to the loss of a dozen people in the recent mud slides in California, it is hard to imagine what would happen if a disaster of that magnitude hit the United States. The experience of [the December 2004 tsunami that hit] Southeast Asia should convince us all of the urgent need for congressional action to prevent wide-scale loss of life and economic destruction at home and abroad. Prevention and planning will pay off.” [US Congress, 1/26/2005]
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issues its 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season outlook, predicting that there will be 12 to 15 tropical storms, with seven to nine becoming hurricanes, and three to five of those becoming major hurricanes. Retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., the NOAA Director, says, “Forecaster confidence that this will be an active hurricane season is very high.” [NOAA Magazine, 5/16/2005]
Several prominent former Louisiana politicians sign a letter urging President Bush to support the 2005 Energy Policy Act (HR 6)‘s provisions for revenue sharing (see April 21, 2005)
(see June 28, 2005). Endorsed by former Governors Mike Foster (R-LA), Buddy Roemer (R-LA), David Treen (R-LA) and former Senators John Breaux (D-LA) and J. Bennett Johnston (D-LA), the letter states: “Louisiana puts an average of $5 billion each year into the Federal treasury from revenues produced off its shore. Energy Bill provisions that would give a meaningful share of those revenues through direct payments to Louisiana and other coastal states that host so much of the nation’s energy production are critical.” [Associated Press, 7/22/2005; Louisiana, 7/22/2005]
The journal Nature publishes an article by MIT climatologist Kerry Emanuel suggesting that rising sea temperatures are producing stronger hurricanes. His study found that a combined measure of duration and wind speeds among North Atlantic hurricanes and North Pacific cyclones has almost doubled since the 1970s. “The best way to put it is that storms are lasting longer at high intensity than they were 30 years ago,” says Emanuel. [Emanuel, 2005; USA Today, 7/31/2005]
CNN’s Larry King focuses on Hurricane Katrina tonight. Meteorologists Sam Champion (WABC-TV) and Rob Marciano (CNN) both predict that that Katrina will be a Category 3 or four storm that could hit near New Orleans or western Florida by Monday morning. Marciano warns that the storm could be “as bad if not worse than Hurricane Charlie coming on shore.” Champion characterizes the situation for people from “Pensacola all the way to New Orleans” as “bad news. I think its trouble. I think it certainly is one of those things that you get up and you watch very carefully.” [CNN, 8/26/2005]
President Bush declares an emergency for Louisiana, and orders federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts in the affected area. This declaration activates the National Response Plan, and authorizes FEMA to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures to save lives, protect property and public health and safety for parishes in the storm’s path and to minimize or avert the threat of a catastrophe in multiple parishes. Bush’s declaration authorizes FEMA to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, including specifically, “[m]easures undertaken to preserve public health and safety and to eliminate threats to public or private property.” In response to this declaration, FEMA Director Michael Brown appoints William Lokey as the Federal Coordinating Officer for federal recovery operations in the affected area. [White House, 8/27/2005; US Department of Homeland Security, 9/7/2005] . As Governor Blanco will later note, this pre-impact declaration is extremely unusual. The last time a president issued a pre-impact declaration was when Hurricane Andrew was bearing down on Florida in 1992. [CNN, 8/27/2005] Note that while President Bush’s emergency declaration identifies 39 parishes, it does not identify the parishes in Katrina’s path, apparently due to a clerical error. [Knight Ridder, 9/11/2005] This omission has no practical effect, and a corrected declaration will be issued on Monday. [US Department of Homeland Security, 9/7/2005]
Note 1 - Reuters will later incorrectly report that Bush appoints William Lokey as the Federal Coordinating Officer, and will imply that such action is somehow unusual. [Reuters, 9/15/2005] In fact, as reflected in the official Federal Register entry, and in the White House release, Brown appoints Lokey as the coordinating officer for Louisiana. This appointment is consistent with standard practice: For each declared emergency, a different (lower level) individual is appointed as the federal coordinating officer.
Note 2 - Knight Ridder (and other news media) will later incorrectly report that Bush failed to trigger the federal government’s responsibility, and that it is not triggered until DHS Secretary Chertoff’s August 31 announcement that the Katrina disaster is an “Incident of National Significance.” [Knight Ridder, 9/11/2005; Knight Ridder, 9/15/2005] In fact, Bush’s declaration (a) effectively authorizes FEMA to provide a full and immediate federal response to the unfolding crisis, and (b) makes the crisis an “Incident of National Significance.” [US Department of Homeland Security, 12/2004] , at 7 (“Note that while all Presidentially declared disasters and emergencies under the Stafford Act are considered Incidents of National Significance, not all Incidents of National Significance necessarily result in disaster or emergency declarations under the Stafford Act.”); [US Department of Homeland Security, 9/7/2005] (granting FEMA full authority to respond to the emergency.) The strategy behind DHS Secretary Chertoff’s much ballyhooed—and inaccurate—August 31 announcement
[ that his declaration triggers for the first time a coordinated federal response to states and localities overwhelmed by disaster remains unclear at this time. ]
Only 15 of the 82 nursing homes in southeast Louisiana will have conducted full evacuations before Katrina makes landfall, according to Joe Donchess, executive director of the Louisiana Nursing Home Association. About five to seven other facilities have moved their patients to area hospitals or hotels. However, at least 40 facilities will have elected to “shelter in place” rather than evacuate. (About 15 facilities have failed to report their evacuation plans, and thus, their status is unknown.) [Times-Picayune Blog, 8/28/2005; New York Times, 9/11/2005 Sources: Joe Donchess]
Approximately 10,000 residents are now sheltering in the New Orleans Superdome. The Louisiana National Guard has delivered three truckloads of water and seven truckloads of MREs, which it expects is sufficient to provision 15,000 people for up to three days, according to Col. Jay Mayeaux, Deputy Director of Louisiana Homeland Security Office of Emergency Preparedness. [Times-Picayune Blog, 8/28/2005 Sources: Jay Mayeaux] More than 600 people with medical needs are housed at the dome. [Associated Press, 8/29/2005] Some 200-550 National Guard members are inside the Superdome providing security and water. Other Guard engineers will be in the dome to monitor the structural integrity of the facility. ( [MacCash and O.Byrne, 8/29/2005] reports 200 Guard members on duty; [Advocate (Baton Rouge), 9/9/2005] reports 400 Guard members on duty; and [Associated Press, 8/29/2005] reports 5500 Guard members on duty.
Note - Reports vary regarding the number of residents in the Superdome this evening. One contemporaneous report indicates that 26,000 people are sheltered there. [Times-Picayune Blog, 8/28/2005] A few hours from now, the same paper will report that the dome is sheltering more than 30,000 people. [Times-Picayune Blog, 8/29/2005] However, the next morning, the same paper will report that approximately 8,000-9,000 people are there, citing Doug Thornton, General Manager of the Superdome. [Associated Press, 8/29/2005 Sources: Doug Thornton] FEMA Director Michael Brown will tell National Public Radio tomorrow morning that 9,000-10,000 people are sheltered there. [National Public Radio, 8/29/2005 Sources: Michael D. Brown] See also, [ABC, 8/29/2005; CBS News, 8/29/2005] .
When Hurricane Katrina strikes New Orleans, the Louisiana National Guard almost immediately loses all forms of communication, according to Lt. Col. Schneider. Louisiana State Police also lose communications as well, according to Sgt. Lawrence McLeary, a state police officer in the Baton Rouge emergency center: “We lost contact with our personnel there. We lost contact with our troupe on the north shore, located in Mandeville. So we had—I mean, it was a pretty tense time, because we had no idea what was taking place in those areas.” The landlines are no longer operable. Cell phone towers have toppled; some are under water. Power is out and so it is impossible to recharge battery-operated radios. Guard generators, which could have charged these devices, are in either Iraq or Baton Rouge, according to a National Public Radio report. [National Public Radio, 9/9/2005 Sources: Pete Schneider, Lawrence McLeary] FEMA emergency officials will wait days to receive working satellite phones. [Los Angeles Times, 9/11/2005]
A veteran FEMA official tells the Washington Post, “It’s such an irony I hate to say it, but we have less capability today than we did on September 11.” Another official tells the newspaper: “We are so much less than what we were in 2000. We’ve lost a lot of what we were able to do then.” Reprentative David E. Price (D-NC) says, “What we were afraid of, and what is coming to pass, is that FEMA has basically been destroyed as a coherent, fast-on-its-feet, independent agency.” [Washington Post, 9/4/2005] Similarly, Bill Waugh, an academic expert on emergency management at Georgia State University, tells the Wall Street Journal, “The events of the last week have shown is that over the last few years since 9/11 we have slowly disassembled our national emergency response system and put in its place something far inferior. We reinvented the wheel when we didn’t need to and now have something that doesn’t roll very well at all.” [Wall Street Journal, 9/6/2005]
The November issue of NOAA Magazine (a publication of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) reports, “There is consensus among NOAA hurricane researchers and forecasters that recent increases in hurricane activity are primarily the result of natural fluctuations in the tropical climate system known as the tropical multi-decadal signal.” [NOAA Magazine, 11/29/2005] In December, Kerry Emanuel, a climate researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who believes that hurricanes are becoming more severe because of rising temperatures, tells a roomful of University of Rhode Island scientists that the NOAA report had censored the views of government scientists who believe there is a link between hurricane intensity and climate change. [Wall Street Journal, 2/16/2006; Providence Journal, 3/26/2006] In February, the Wall Street Journal will similarly report that despite what NOAA contended, several of the agency’s scientists “believed man-made warming was a key cause.” The day before the Journal’s report is published, the NOAA will issue a correction stating that the consensus “represents the views of some NOAA hurricane researchers and forecasters, but does not necessarily represent the views of all NOAA scientists.” [NOAA Magazine, 11/29/2005; Wall Street Journal, 2/16/2006]
Congress rewrites a two-centuries-old prohibition against the president using federal troops, or state National Guard troops acting under federal control, to act as police on domestic soil. The prohibition dates back to the Insurrection Act of 1807, which stated that the only circumstance under which the president could use troops to enforce the law against US citizens is during a time of armed revolt. The ban on using troops against citizens was strengthened by the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, which forbids any government official from using military soldiers as police without specific authorization from Congress. The new law stems from the reported lawlessness that swept New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated large parts of the city. The governor of Louisiana, Democrat Kathleen Blanco, refused to allow the federal government to take over the evacuation of the city, fearing that the change would amount to martial law (see 11:00 am EDT August 25, 2005). After this rejection, and the devastation wrought in Texas by Hurricane Rita just weeks later, President Bush began discussing the idea of a new law that would allow the president to impose martial law in a region for reasons other than citizen uprisings. He called it “making the Department of Defense the lead agency” in handling emergencies such as those created by Katrina and Rita, or by another terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11. (Former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo argues that the president does not need any new laws because his inherent authority as commander in chief lets him send federal troops anywhere he likes, no matter what the law says.) A year later, Congressional Republicans slip a provision into a large military appropriations bill allowing the president to deploy federal troops as police at his discretion, regardless of the possible objections of state governors. Any situation in which the president feels the “constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of maintaining public order” can trigger military control of a city, county, or state at the president’s behest. Bush signs the law into effect on October 17 with virtually no debate or public discussion. [Savage, 2007, pp. 316-319]
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