Red Cross develops playbook for future disasters

Editor's Note: This story was updated at 10:25 a.m. March 1, 2006, to correct Rich Fainter's title.

The American Red Cross is developing a playbook to help the organization better use information technology assets and improve coordination and assistance with government and industry during natural and manmade disasters.

Ron McKenzie, the organization’s senior director for IT services, said the Red Cross has been trying to learn from what worked and what didn’t work during Hurricane Katrina relief operations. A Red Cross committee has been interviewing telecommunications carriers, IT companies and numerous experts inside and outside of the organization to prepare for events that could affect thousands to millions of Americans, he said.

He said the playbook, which he hopes will be ready by July, could help the organization mobilize faster during events without being reactive. He added that it’s one of the hottest topics in the organization today.

“We would have upfront knowledge and do pre-planning,” McKenzie said.

For example, he said the Red Cross needs to maintain relationships with IT companies and others, whether through contracts or memorandums of understanding, not just during events when they need to quickly and effectively receive assistance, but all the time.

The Red Cross received criticism during Katrina because some companies offered wireless technologies to help with efforts but were turned away because the Red Cross didn’t have the capabilities to integrate them into its network, McKenzie said. The playbook could address those issues, he added.

Another part of the strategy will be to include technology applications that helped families find loved ones, get financial assistance and find shelters. Rich Fainter, director of IT and Response Technology Team liaison, said the organization discussed in meetings early on during Katrina how they could use wireless technologies to help people in need. He said the focus is on taking technologies the organization is familiar with and using it to their full potential.

McKenzie delivered the keynote address at the FCW Events Wireless/ RFID Conference and Exhibition. He talked about the use of satellite communications, two-way radios and other wireless technologies during hurricanes Katrina and Rita and other storms last year. He said the organization used IT more proactively and more broadly during those events than in the past.

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