By Stefanie Arcangelo, American Red Cross
“I really appreciate you guys.” That’s what Lisa Lathan of Bon Weir, Texas said to Red Cross volunteer Becky Tiles as she left the Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC) in Newton, Texas. Lathan had visited the MARC to begin the recovery process after being forced out of her home during the Southeast Texas floods. Lisa was grateful the Red Cross was able to verify her home was in a certified disaster area with a few quick clicks on a keyboard. Just one hour earlier, that would have been impossible.
The Southeast Texas floods impacted thousands of people in the area, with the town of
Bon Weir being hit particularly hard. The MARC in nearby Newton had many families waiting to see a Red Cross caseworker to begin the recovery process, but verifying the impact of the floods on each home was delaying the process.
Brad Kieserman, Vice President, American Red Cross Disaster Operations and Logistics, was visiting the MARC the same day as Lisa and he could tell things weren’t going well.
“It was apparent that folks were frustrated,” Brad said. “You could see it on their faces. Anytime you see that, you have to figure out what’s going on.”
Earlier in the week, the Red Cross worked with local county judges and county commissioners to have various areas of Southeast Texas certified disaster areas due to the flood. Having these areas pre-identified helps the Red Cross speed up assistance to the client and be good stewards of the donor dollar.
However, things at the MARC weren’t moving as quickly as they could have. Talking to the site director and Red Cross casework staff, Brad learned the names and addresses of those seeking assistance were not on lists corresponding with the certified areas and many areas were still inaccessible, causing delays.
Hearing from client caseworkers about the issues this situation was causing, Brad put information into action. He called the Geospatial Technology team at the Red Cross, explained the issue and asked if they could develop a real-time solution. Within an hour, the team had created a GIS map and app based on the certified disaster areas. The map allowed case workers to type in addresses of flood victims and instantly verify they qualified for direct client assistance from the Red Cross.
Once the new process had been implemented, casework at the MARC picked up quickly. Clients no longer needed to wait for the Red Cross to be able to verify the damage in the field. Families could move directly to client casework and get the assistance they needed.
“I saw 70 people in the resource center who literally only had the clothes on their back,” Brad said. “These people were not pre-disaster housing compromised. This flood was the tipping point. Our job is to shore up these folks and meet their immediate needs so they could start the recovery process. The Red Cross gave them shelter, a hot meal and mental health services while waiting.”
Several hours after the tool was created, the team brought it back to operation headquarters and created a new training for all caseworkers to implement the procedure the following day.
Brad and his team visited the MARC in Orange, Texas the next day and saw first-hand the new tool being used to help families in their recovery. The new system works and it’s helping the Red Cross provide relief to the people impacted by the floods faster.
“I want the caseworker to be the refuge,” Brad said. “As an organization, we have to be nimble and adapt. Every disaster is different. A tornado is different than a flood. A flood is a very different type of disaster. The needs are different. Technology has to be swift, needs to be integrated and we did that yesterday. We turned technology into refuge in real time.”