by Meridith Levinson

Save the Children Federation Uses PDAs in Its Disaster Recovery Efforts

Mar 01, 20022 mins
Disaster Recovery

Hurricane Mitch decimated Nicaragua in November 1998, destroying bridges, ripping up roads and leaving thousands of adults and children without shelter. Immediately after the storm, staff from Save the Children Federation, an international relief organization based in Westport, Conn., began to survey the devastation.

Clerical workers in a regional office then entered that information into a central database, a process that took more than a week. Only then could Save the Children determine what kind of relief services and disaster recovery the community needed. While the lengthy data-entry process dragged on, more people became the victims of hunger, extreme temperatures and disease.

Thanks to a grant of $150,000 in cash and $199,000 in software and tech support from Microsoft in January 2001, Save the Children now uses Compaq iPAQs to evaluate the damage after floods, earthquakes and volcanoes, and to find adequate aid and distribute it quicker. The organization also uses the PDAs to identify communities’ vulnerability to natural disaster to better prepare themselves.

“If a community is affected by a disaster, it’s important to find out what their needs are so we can properly plan the aid that we’re going to provide,” says Heike Sommer, grants manager for Save the Children’s division of humanitarian response. “If people’s homes were not destroyed, you don’t want to send plastic sheeting.”

It can take more than a week to enter data from 10 paper surveys, Sommer says, while downloading the same data from a PDA takes about an hour. “With PDAs, our staff can come in at the end of the day and immediately download the information,” she says.