Oracle OpenWorld 2018 - American Red Cross equips volunteers with mobile app for disaster relief

Jessica Twentyman Profile picture for user jtwentyman October 23, 2018
Last year’s hurricanes have prompted a rethink at the humanitarian organization around how volunteers at temporary shelters can order and track delivery of basic supplies

American Red Cross oracle
The American Red Cross responds to around 64,000 disasters every year. Most of those events never make the headlines. Others attract global attention - think, for example, of Hurricanes Irma, Maria and Harvey in 2017.

It was the impact of these major disasters, along with the year’s Californian wildfires, that provided the impetus this year for a mobile app project at the American Red Cross, as senior director of information technology Susan Gorecki explained to attendees at this week’s Oracle OpenWorld event in San Francisco.

The magnitude of these events was a real driver for our project. We wanted to improve the efficiency of delivering shelter, food and emergency supplies to those affected by disaster. So we brought together a team of Red Cross partners to look at our execution systems to see how we could improve our processes and do it quickly.

That’s no easy task, however. Disaster relief missions must serve unpredictable needs. While the American Red Cross has five massive distribution centres nationwide, it regularly needs to open smaller, temporary hubs in areas hit by disaster. Local warehouse space needs to be leased and trucks often have to be rented. The work of stocking warehouses, running shelters and transporting supplies, meanwhile, often falls to volunteers, as Gorecki explained.

Volunteers might be deployed in a disaster zone for just two weeks and then you’ll get new people in, so the systems they use need to be really simple to use.

Order to fulfillment

Working with a team from Oracle Consulting, the American Red Cross has developed a mobile app for volunteers working in shelters, enabling them to order supplies and track the progress of these orders through to fulfillment.

This mobile app integrates directly with the organization’s back-end Oracle Ebusiness Suite (EBS) system, as do new web applications for employees based in the American Red Cross’s back office operations, who are responsible for approving and despatching orders. Integration is provided by Oracle Mobile Cloud Service, while authentication of volunteers is provided by Oracle Identity Cloud Service.

In the interests of simplicity, the pared-down app, developed and built in just three days, offers volunteers five basic options, as Gorecki explained. They can select items from a list of available inventory, order those items and then track order status. There’s a received function, that enables them to record the receipt of deliveries, typically by scanning a barcode on packaging. Finally, there’s an offline option - an important capability when connectivity is lacking. Says Gorecki:

So if I’m a volunteer setting up a shelter, I have everything I need to get up and running quickly without needing extensive software training just to order basic items.

The American Red Cross is now looking to roll out the mobile app this year. As well as shelters, Gorecki believes that it could also be rolled out to emergency kitchens and temporary distribution sites in future. Recently, the organization had the opportunity to pilot the app in Columbia, South Carolina when Hurricane Florence hit the region in September. As Gorecki reported:

It was a very useful and valuable experience to pilot the system live, on the ground, working alongside the business and volunteers to figure out what their current processes look like and how the mobile app could make a positive contribution.

This deployment provided valuable feedback, she says, as well as validation that the mobile app will be ready for action when fresh disasters strike.

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