United Way tests CMU-designed app that could speed aid to disaster victims
Apr 01, 2012 (The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
A test run on Saturday on a software application that can cut the time it takes social service agencies to identify and assist families coping with disaster uncovered just a few minor glitches, according to one agency.
"All in all, it was a very good experience," said Jennifer Highfield, director of communications for the United Way of Allegheny County. "This is why you have a test -- to work the bugs out before you go into the field."
Six Carnegie Mellon University students developed the Disaster Response Mobile Assessment System, which about 40 volunteers tested at the Millvale Community Center. Volunteers played disaster victims, feeding fictional information to those using the software, such as saying that they had lost their home in a flood. Other volunteers then input that information into a database using the software, which will be installed on smartphones, iPads and other devices.
Volunteers encountered an occasional problem with wireless Internet connectivity, Highfield said, Out in the field, she added, volunteers might not have immediate access to the Internet. In that case, the application is designed to save the information until it can be uploaded to a database.
Agencies including the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, North Hills Community Outreach and Catholic Charities expect to use the application. The CMU app could reduce the time for processing information from days to as little as half an hour, officials have said.
The information can be shared by agencies, so that victims are interviewed only once.
Development costs for the application were about $5,000, agency officials said, and added that it would cost between $75,000 and $100,000 for implementation and training; the agencies will share that cost.
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