The Future of Disaster Relief

December 2, 2013

By Sarah Marshall, ‘15

In the wake of the November 17 tornado, a group of graduate business administration students went to Washington to help those who were affected by the disaster. Peter Gombos, Domician Zahorjan, Safura Sultana, Michael Hangartner and Margarita Mikhailova arrived with hopeful hearts and ready hands. The Red Cross enlisted their help with their overflow of voicemail messages.

When they arrived at the Red Cross, they discovered more than 1,500 voicemails. With only one phone line, only one person could access messages at one time. Each message had to be transcribed by the listener and then forwarded to someone else who would put it into the computer. This transcription method increased the possibility of error in responses to messages.

“It was natural to us to try to organize the calls and come up with a solution that would be beneficial to everybody,” Zahorjan said.

The graduate students wanted to create a system that could be accessed by more people, one that would allow the Red Cross to connect people in need with people who wanted to help at a much faster rate. Through Google Doc spreadsheets, they created categories which organized people based on why they contacted the agency. Categories such as immediate need, professionals, companies, and volunteers allowed them to quickly determine the best way to respond to each person. 

Gombos and his fellow students are hoping to create a new, more durable system for The Red Cross. The new system could reduce the time spent on cataloging calls and allow the volunteers to spend their time more efficiently. The Red Cross has shown interest in a new system but could use some outside funding to support the project.

Gombos and Zahorjan both came to Bradley through a scholarship program and work as graduate assistants within Foster College of Business. They were grateful for the chance to give back to the community and were thankful that they were allowed the week off to volunteer at The Red Cross.

“For me, it was amazing to see the amount of people who came out to help. There were people from as far as San Diego, Calif. and Georgia,” said Gombos.