FlipSide: IT community volunteers to help hurricane victims

Many companies gave workers time off to head south to give humanitarian aid.

Chris Bailey is a computer systems expert, a teleworker and a dog lover. It was her dedication to animals that prompted her to drive 1,500 miles to New Orleans to lend a hand in the wake of one of the worst hurricanes in U.S. history.

A systems analyst at SRA International, Bailey was one of many information technology workers who volunteered to help people and animals whose lives were upended by Hurricane Katrina.

"I was looking at the news and felt I really wanted to do something, particularly for animals," Bailey said. "One of the things I pursued was volunteering with the Humane Society."

Many people from the federal IT community had the same idea. The disaster along the Gulf Coast prompted SRA, IBM and other companies to give employees time off without deducting it from their vacation pay.

Bailey paid her own way and never expected SRA to pay for her time off, but it did. She said she was happy spending long days in an overheated trailer working on a Web site that reunited people with their pets.

Volunteers set up a network with 11 laptop computers. "Volunteers from all over the country were creating records of the animals -- where they were rescued, what kind of animal or breed, where it was rescued," said Bailey, who is now back at home in Plymouth, Mass.

Rescuers, who were saving 300 animals a day, were overwhelmed by the number of pet owners looking for help in finding their pets, Bailey said.

Once the immediate crisis passed, Petfinder, a nationwide Web site that helps people adopt pets from animal shelters and rescue groups, agreed to maintain the database that Bailey helped create.

Bailey wasn’t the only IT worker who decided to volunteer. Julie Vaughn, who develops proposals for Acquisition Solutions in Northern Virginia, headed south with members of her church to Sabine Pass, Texas.

To save money and time, Vaughn and three members of the church drove two vehicles pulling trailers filled with supplies.

Terry Ince-Leigh works for IBM in California, where her territory includes NASA's Ames Research Center. She headed to Biloxi, Miss., as a volunteer with the American Red Cross.

Another SRA employee, senior legal adviser Jill Rhodes, volunteered with the American Red Cross for three weeks. Her job was to help victims fill out paperwork for financial support. Her team helped more than 10,000 families in two weeks.


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