Solving the problem of relief inefficiency

In times of crisis and humanitarian need, those who are able often want to help. Many times however, volunteer efforts are disorganized, and sometimes help doesn’t reach those who need it. Hurricane Sandy is a recent example of this imbalance in our society. One blogger, wrote about his experience offering assistance at a church. He was asked to carry off donations of clothing that were not needed. Some donations were even turned away.

Is there a solution to this? The business world would call it an inefficient market, the need to bring together buyers and sellers. Except, in this case, it’s the need to coordinate the efforts of those who need and those who want to give.

Facebook and Twitter are helpful resources, but sometimes even that information is scattershot, unreliable, and uncoordinated. What can the world of IT do to facilitate a solution? What follows are three suggestions to the information conundrum.

1. Wiki-esque real-time management

Picture this: one website listing every volunteer need by location. If you want to help, you could sign up online via your phone or computer. Much like you might sign up for an online course, this idea would coordinate relief efforts. You could see available times and needs in your area. Once you fill a slot, other volunteers would know what availability is left.

2. Supply chain communication

What if one spot needs water, and two hours later needs batteries while down the road others need canned goods or diapers? Could we, in real-time, update supply lists noted with critical needs coordinated with drop off points?

3. Make disaster relief personal

Every Christmas, our family gets a catalog from Samaritan’s Purse. In it, we can select to provide schooling for a boy or girl, to buy a goat for a family, or to fund leg braces for a child with a physical disability. Why not create an online catalog for philanthropy towards disaster victims? Instead of writing a check to an organization, you could buy a generator for a family. Knowing where your money goes and how it specifically helps may encourage more giving from the community.

With the brainpower available in our society, there are myriad ways to solve the organizational problem of disaster relief. All it takes is for the tech community to come together.

Royal Deer Design would like to challenge its readers and clients to brainstorm solutions that would streamline disaster relief. With our help, the next big storm can be hit head on with a collective heart toward the common good. Feel free to comment your ideas here.