By Michael Wanzenried/American Red Cross of Alaska
Over the last year, the American Red Cross of Alaska has moved towards streamlining some of its procedures with new technology in the form of mobile apps. RC View is used by volunteers to help dispatch Disaster Action Teams (DAT) to emergencies while RC Collect is used to collect information during damage assessments on homes and property following disasters. Although volunteers are still working some of the kinks out, RC View and RC Collect are already decreasing response times and streamlining data collection and case management following large scale disasters like the November 2018 earthquake.
Like its name suggests, RC View provides an overview of the information for those volunteers scheduled to be on-call for their Disaster Action Team. Southcentral DAT Duty Officer Laurel Daniel appreciates how RC View has streamlined her role in responding to an emergency. When Laurel receives an alert from the fire department, she can instantly send a message to on-call DAT responders to see who is available. Then, volunteers on the other end can respond with the simple press of a button. The dispatcher can then send logistical information – like where the fire is located – to the response team.
Previously, dispatchers or DAT captains would have to manually call or text each person on their on-call team, wait for a response, and then relay the response information a second time. This sometimes increased response times, especially when those on call failed to respond. In those cases, dispatchers or DAT captains would have to send requests out to members of other Disaster Action Teams. Such frustrations are not entirely a thing of the past, but the app has helped significantly.
For Red Cross of Alaska Disaster Action Team Captain Suzanne Eldridge, the use of RC View has given her more time to wake up, prepare her response supplies, and get out the door at 3 a.m. Those extra minutes it takes to find volunteers, she says, only increases the amount of time a family might have to stand out in a cold, wintry night.
RC Collect is a straightforward data collection application built for ArcGIS and ArcGIS portal. It combines a GPS-like interface with built in data collection forms that volunteers can use on a phone or tablet. Volunteers who assessed damaged properties in the Municipality of Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and the Kenai Peninsula Borough following the November 2018 earthquake used RC Collect to take pictures, use drop down menus to report the extent of damage and record the address.
One of the primary benefits of RC Collect is that it centralizes how data is collected. Instead of having to wait until the end of the day to synthesize hundreds of photos with paper forms, volunteers can upload data on the fly. This makes it easier for volunteers on the casework end of things to analyze and assess each case, which improves how quickly the Red Cross can start providing assistance to affected residents where needed.
Although the Red Cross of Alaska is working to automate some of its procedures for responding to emergencies, there is no app that can replace a volunteer. If you are interested in helping your community and/or developing a new set of skills, please contact Kaitlin Donnelly at 907-201-2660 or firstname.lastname@example.org to see how you can help.