After Hurricane Ivan struck Alabama in 2004, state officials started looking for a better way to coordinate assistance for people who needed it. A group of members of the Governor's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (GFBCI) explored some commercially available systems, but found nothing that was suitable for their needs, said Executive Director Terri Hasdorff.
The group talked with colleagues at the state's Emergency Management Agency (EMA) and its Information Services Division, and turned to officials of the National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), who said a system was being developed, but a finished product was not yet available for use, Hasdorff said.
Then in summer 2005, Hurricane Katrina swept across the Gulf Coast, and the need for a new donations-management system rose to a critical level.
Coping With Catastrophe
An influx of money, goods and services inundated Alabama to help Katrina victims who lived in the state, and evacuees from Louisiana and Mississippi. The state created a link on the GFBCI Web site for people who wanted to donate cash.
"But the system we had for gathering money was not very sophisticated," said state CIO Jim Burns, noting that the system couldn't handle the volume of donations the state was receiving. Alabama still lacked a method to efficiently match donated goods and services with needs.
While state officials searched for a solution, Thomas Marshall, associate professor of management at Auburn University College of Business in Auburn, Ala., watched images of the hurricane's devastation on the news. A native of south Louisiana, he was worried about relatives back home, and said he wanted to make a meaningful contribution to the Katrina relief effort.
He had something to offer -- technology for developing data-management solutions -- because he runs a nonprofit organization called Data Management Institute for Technological Excellence (DMITE), which develops data systems for nonprofit organizations and academic institutions, with organization co-founder Robert Weighall.
DMITE helped the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., and Trenholm State Technical College in Montgomery, Ala., integrate Oracle technology into their curricula, and the institute is also developing a data management system for Alabama's Ronald McDonald House of Charities.
Marshall called Burns; Burns introduced Marshall to Hasdorff. The result -- just a few days later -- was the Alabama Volunteer and Donations Database System (AVADDS).
Marshall describes AVADDS -- based on the Oracle Portal platform -- as a virtual community that helps individuals and agencies collaborate on relief and recovery efforts. AVADDS collects detailed information from people who want to donate money, goods or services to disaster relief.
Donors start the contribution process by following a link to complete a donation form. They may also call a toll-free number to speak with volunteers who enter the data for them. When the GFBCI receives goods into its warehouse, a worker notes the arrival in AVADDS.
Using the AVADDS management dashboard, a GFBCI "matching coordinator" can access Tracker, a communications system operated by the state EMA, to learn about specific requirements for volunteers and goods.
The dashboard is then used to fit the applicable criterion.
"If someone posted a need in Tracker, 'I need 500 cases of water,' that matching coordinator can go in and look in the warehouse and say, 'We've got 1,000 cases; let's send 500 to this county,'" Hasdorff said. "If people were needing 50 people trained in chain saws, and we just happened to have people call us from Philadelphia who said, 'We're trained in chain saws, and we have a team that's ready to come down at a moment's notice,' we would be able to make that match through the system