What is becoming the most important element in disaster response and delivering humanitarian services to those affected by disaster? According to one Red Cross volunteer I met today, Nicholas Brannon, increasingly, it is digital and physical efficiency. Moreover, he added, these will be driving factors in recruiting new volunteers and he cited the Red Cross commitment to efficiency and innovative use of technology as factors that determined where he might work or volunteer.
These were some of the insights I gained today on a damage assessment assignment, when I joined veteran volunteer, Jim Steel, who deployed from California, and Nicholas, who recently graduated from the University of Houston. Together, we were introduced to a new technology: the MapToTrack system. The American Red Cross is beta testing this new smart phone app for use in assessing damage to residences affected by the recent flooding in the greater Houston area. The app uses global positioning satellites (GPS) and Google Maps to interface with Red Cross systems and technologies. The result provides damage assessment information directly to caseworkers, faster then ever and with greater accuracy.
When I asked Jim about his experience with the new technology he quickly described a problem he defined as “gray matter.” As a retiree, Jim went on to tell me, he feels the challenges of learning a new skill set and mastering ever-changing technologies. From my backseat view however, Jim had this new technology well under control, gently guiding his volunteer partner, a recent college graduate, on the ins and outs of the system.
On the other end of age spectrum, Nicholas has his own thoughts about the system. A millennial, he definitely sees the value in converting damage assessments to an electronic format, but already sees ways that this beta system could be improved. He was even planning to offer up those suggestions to the programmers at the American Red Cross Relief Operations Headquarters who are requesting feedback to improve the system.
Red Cross workers undertake damage assessments in order to begin the process of delivering assistance to disaster-impacted residents. Through this app, damage assessments are viewable in real-time and, as a result, the process moves along more quickly. During our lunch break Jim called headquarters to verify that all of the data had indeed been captured. A return call indicated it had and the app was working as intended.
Another technology, RC View, will offer a common platform to manage and track resources and activities across the full spectrum of disaster services. This all-new virtual workplace will allow Red Cross volunteers and employees to access their desktops anywhere there is an internet connection. This technology—alongside an existing collection of Red Cross apps—delivers expert information when and where you need it most. For the many families and residents in the flooding disaster, this will be a welcome use of new technology. As the American Red Cross looks for ways to become more efficient, technology will likely play a huge role.