In the wake of a disaster, getting the right relief supplies to the right people at the right time can often be problematic. An outpouring of inappropriate or unusable items – however well-intentioned – have prompted responders to describe the situation as the "second disaster."
A new Internet-based program that has been introduced is designed to help match up specific needs with donations.
The Aidmatrix Network connects the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), state emergency management offices, charities and donors. The program is funded partially through Homeland Security and several large corporate donors. The program will soon contain information about the need for volunteers as well as availability of volunteers.
The program was originally developed several years ago as an online national donation management program. It was expanded in June to connect FEMA and others involved in disaster response and recovery.
"Basically, it allows 'one-stop shopping' for those who have something to donate and for those who need donations," said former Wisconsin Gov. Scott McCallum, president and chief executive officer of Aidmatrix. "Partnering corporations can post product they wish to donate. Then, for instance, in a disaster situation, government agencies or nonprofits can post their needs. The donations can easily be matched up."
To date, more than two dozen faith-based organizations, nearly a dozen food banks and many other disaster and medical relief organizations have joined the network.
Among those involved in the network is Adventist Community Services (ACS), which partnered with the Aidmatrix Foundation two years ago.
Joe Watts, disaster response national coordinator ACS, said Aidmatrix was willing to take the organization's warehouse inventory application, written in Microsoft Access, and transform it to a Web-based application.
"That began a wonderful relationship with the great team at Aidmatrix," Watts said. "Hurricane Katrina pushed the development time and the Aidmatrix team was willing to work 20-hour days to develop an application that we could use to manage the eight, multi-agency warehouses."
He said the ACS disaster team was continuing to work with Aidmatrix to further develop the warehouse inventory application to make it more efficient.
"For Aidmatrix, the work in disaster response is not just a job," Watts said. "The team sees it as a way that they can be of assistance to people in need."
In addition to the humanitarian relief organizations joining the system, McCallum said about 40 percent of the states nationwide have signed on. The rest are in the process of joining, he said.
"Those states in high-risk areas, like states along the Gulf that are affected by hurricanes, were among the first to join," he said. "Others are in the process and we expect them to be online shortly. Actually, when you consider that the program was just announced in June, the quick response has been pretty amazing."
Some states are going deeper with the program, linking every county emergency management coordinator to the system.
"They know it will just make it easier for everyone to coordinate efforts – and successfully handle any emergencies they may have," McCallum said.
Corporate donors say they appreciate the automated donation management features, which allow product offers to be handled electronically.
"For instance, if Kraft wants to donate 2,000 cases of macaroni-and-cheese, they simply enter their donation into the program and it's immediately viewable and available on a first-come, first-served basis to all participants," McCallum said.
"The program tracks the donation and also takes care of all the accounting for the company," he said. "If Kraft later wants to know what they donated, all they have to do is go online and check. All the information is provided, which is of tremendous value to them."
Donations can be routed to state governments or to members of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. Donations can be allocated to a single organization or split between multiple organizations, all by simply keying in the appropriate information.
Grants are being offered to nonprofits to assist them in joining the network.
"In the past, programs have been too expensive and too complicated for most humanitarian organizations, but we're changing that," McCallum said. "Because we're not-for-profit as well, we can offer this program at a very affordable cost.
"In addition, it's very user-friendly, making it attractive to organizations run by volunteers," he added. "Most people can be trained in a matter of minutes."
The system also alleviates the administrative burden for government and disaster response organizations, he said, allowing them to focus on relief work rather than paperwork.
In addition, Aidmatrix helps avoid what has been termed the "second disaster," an overwhelming onslaught of unwanted or unusable items arriving in mass at disaster scenes.
"Generally in the past, 50 percent of volunteers' time has been utilized doing unnecessary work: dealing with product coming in that's not needed, sorting it, finding storage, etc.," he said. "With this program, that will be a thing of the past. Donations will remain in the hands of the donors until they are actually needed and requested by agencies."
The program has been so successful that officials in Honduras, which was hit in September by Hurricane Felix, are refusing any supplies that are not arranged through Aidmatrix.
McCallum said he envisions the day when the entire world is linked through the program.
"Already, we've helped charities move almost $1 billion in aid to over 35,000 charitable organizations around the globe," he said. "We regularly process some 50 million pounds of food and other goods per month."
Greg Smith, individual assistance donations manager at the California Office of Emergency Services, had high praise for the program. The state tapped into the system to line up relief for survivors of the recent Southern California wildfires.
Smith, who has encouraged every agency involved in wildfire recovery efforts to join Aidmatrix, noted that the state has received donations from throughout the nation via the program.
"These are indeed exciting times in the field of disaster-related donations management, and the Aidmatrix solution is the cornerstone of it," Smith said.