GEMA/HS Dispatch March 2018 Edition - Page 8

“It’s not technology, it’s philosophy” Free online case management platform jumpstarts recovery E ffectively delivering resources to those in need is an eminent challenge throughout all areas of emergency management, but one organization aims to battle this long-established concern by providing volunteer groups the crucial data they need to accomplish their mission. Crisis Cleanup is a free open source disaster debris work order By Julia Regeski management platform designed to improve coordination, reduce duplication of efforts, improve efficiency of recovery and enhance the volunteer experience. Following a disaster, when a survivor calls into the Crisis Cleanup hotline, they are immediately connected to a volunteer. These volunteers, while typically already employed by a relief agency, work through a virtual call center in an effort to gather vital information from callers, such as their address, or whether the debris is blocking entrance to survivors’ homes. Once this information is collected, it’s made available in Crisis Cleanup’s online platform to a large database of vetted organizations and volunteer groups, who can then “claim” an incident and commit to assisting the individual in need. This process of open-source One way Crisis Cleanup presents information on survivor needs is via a user-populated interactive map. 8 disaster case management proved helpful not only when Hurricane Matthew battered the Georgia coast, but also more recently, when the entire region was hit by Hurricane Irma. When it became clear the storm would likely impact the entire state, a group of nonprofit and public sector partners in emergency recovery called Georgia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster worked with Crisis Cleanup founder Aaron Titus to activate a Hurricane Irma event. Then, the Crisis Cleanup 1-800 number was made publicly available to Georgians in need of debris removal. What followed was a large amount of phone calls into the system, with survivors throughout not only Georgia, but the entire Southeast, calling in hopes of receiving help. Titus estimates the system received an unprecedented 60,000 phone calls between Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Such a large amount of requests poses a challenge, according to Titus, due to the fact that Crisis Cleanup is not actively maintained by a single organization or program; but rather, is meant to act as an open source communications tool, able to serve in any way it needs to. “Crisis Cleanup represents a way of engaging the whole community after a disaster,” he said. “It’s not technology, it’s a philosophy.” One of many areas that chose to embrace the Crisis Cleanup philosophy was Chatham County. For both Hurricanes Matthew and Irma, Chelsea Sawyer, emergency management specialist in community outreach at Chatham County Emergency Management Agency, not only recognized the program’s diverse usefulness and success after Irma, but worked to adopt it into multiple organizations’ emergency plans. “It took that burden off the EMA,” she said, “because originally (survivors) were calling us directly and trying to get us to input their cases. We could give them that 1-800 number, and it sent the information off to another location that wasn’t being inundated with phone calls like we were.” Sawyer and Chatham EMA worked to adopt Crisis Cleanup as a way to organize response on a community-wide scale. As needs were generated in Crisis Cleanup’s online map, officials were able to identify exactly where needs were most concentrated, allowing them to gauge where services would be able to make the most impact in real time. Sawyer and her team also used Crisis Cleanup to determine where services like volunteer reception centers should be located. “People would call in and need help, say, gutting their house,” said Sawyer. “That’s a home that we can send unaffiliated volunteers to. It worked out really, really well, and it prevented us from doing double entry and double work because we took the needs directly input from the clients who made a phone call, and connected those needs with a real group of people that wanted to help.” Crisis Cleanup ultimately did so much to connect volunteer resources that it became an integral part of Chatham’s VOAD development, especially since it demonstrated what can happen when a diverse group of community stakeholders is able to cooperate effectively. Titus says that enabling the kind of group effort demonstrated in Chatham is what he hoped for when developing the platform. “It gives the volunteer sector the tools and incentive to collaborate and collect data that is valuable,” he said. “That will allow us to strengthen relationships and our partnership with emergency management.” Emergencies often result in numerous agencies, offices and organizations, all trying to collectively coordinate to help those in need. For the voluntary organizations and countless volunteers who want to be a part of this process, cooperation is no less needed, but it often goes unseen. Crisis Cleanup allows these mission-driven relief groups a convenient, efficient method to communicate about the things that matter most to them and successfully begin what, for many, is the long road to recovery. DISPATCH