the wake of Hurricane Katrina, emergency management staff
encountered some unusual data management problems. After being
checked, buildings were marked with a sign, like a large X. But
workers from different federal and relief agencies didn’t know what
the other agencies’ signs represented, so many buildings were
checked multiple times or marked with multiple signs.
“A simple Web site could have solved this problem by telling the
agencies how to interpret these different signs,” says Louiqa
Raschid, professor of information systems. “Data sharing in a
disaster can be difficult to support, even at a very simple level.”
If technology can make the difference between success and failure
for disaster management, how do humanitarian organizations choose
what kinds of technology to use? Raschid, Katherine Stewart,
assistant professor of information systems, Sanjay Gosain, assistant
professor of information systems, and MBA student Julie Inlow are
working to understand the technology adoption process in
humanitarian relief agencies, specifically the adoption of free,
open-source software (F/OSS). The project is now in an early stage
and is funded in part by two grants from the National Science
One of the problems with disaster management is that many
different agencies come together, each with their own proprietary
software. Interoperability is key for successful data sharing
amongst agencies, which is why F/OSS may be uniquely suited for
“Companies like Microsoft and HP don’t have much incentive to
provide ways for their software programs to talk to each other,
because that’s not how you make money,” says Raschid. “With open
source software, people can go in and write extra code to make two
pieces of software talk to each other.”
Some humanitarian F/OSS projects are already in the works.
CiviCRM is customer relationship management software that helps
agencies keep track of victims, organizations, camps, and relief
supplies. Stewart believes even more humanitarian agencies will
become interested in using F/OSS because the open development
process provides a better quality software product and more options
for customization of software. “Open source is almost like a peer
review for computer code,” says Stewart. “Anyone can contribute to
the project, but then those contributions are screened, evaluated
and tested by a wide variety of people.”
after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the Smith School of
Business coordinated with the University of Maryland’s Undergraduate
Admissions and Registrar offices to extend a helping hand by
admitting at least forty students from various schools affected by
the hurricane. Mostly from Tulane and Loyola Universities, the
students were admitted as visiting students at the University of
Maryland. Students were primarily from the Washington–Baltimore area
who desired to return home after the devastation.
Because students did not have access to their academic
records—many of which were lost to flooding—the University of
Maryland and the Smith School made special arrangements to help
displaced students. Counseling sessions helped them find appropriate
classes and assistance was given to help students with housing and
helping them assimilate into campus life. Student leaders were asked
to give special attention to displaced students by inviting them to
social activities and involving them in extra-curricular activities
The Smith School also helped a small number of graduate students;
by the end of the fall semester, all had moved on for various
reasons. By spring semester, just five Smith undergraduates were
here as post-Hurricane Katrina transfers.
helped families figure out how to get FEMA assistance. Since I was
not a FEMA employee, just a volunteer, wearing the FEMA shirt and
badge was nerve-wracking at times. I worked on the FEMA Individual
Assistance program, which has its share of flaws.
The experience left me with the conviction that even technology
developed with great intentions may not be very useful for the final
beneficiary if the individuals involved in strategizing, planning,
architecting, and designing the technology have never experienced
the same circumstances as the final beneficiary.
Getting assistance under the current system isn’t easy.
You need to
have a pretty good Internet connection—not easy to come by after a
hurricane, and for which you may need to stand in a long line. You
have to know all kinds of details about your property and your
family, from Social Security numbers to insurance policy details,
all while sitting in the dark because there’s no power, or sitting
in a hotel three states away.
Sometimes things just go wrong with the system. If you somehow
clicked on the wrong buttons on the Web site, or the person on the
phone misheard or misunderstood you, you may never receive a check.
If you miss an arbitrary deadline, you can be denied assistance.
There were moments when I thought the lottery system would offer
someone better odds of assistance.
People on prestigious and expensive waterfront properties lost
their homes to flood and wind, along with people in the low-lying
areas of New Orleans that were inhabited by the poor. Essentially
the hurricane put both rich and poor all on the same ground. Several
applicants for assistance admitted they had never known what it was
like to be homeless or live in a shelter. They sobbed for their
previous lack of sensitivity.
Volunteering was a truly great learning experience. It gave me
the opportunity to work with nearly a thousand families over 30
continuous days from 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Many of them were left
with absolutely nothing. I heard their stories, their sadness and
their hopes. It was the most rewarding experience of my life.
School students found ways to respond to the many needs of disaster
victims with typical Terp generosity.
Maryland Undergraduate Student Entrepreneurs (MUSE) Club, sponsored
by the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, raised funds for
hurricane victims by selling popcorn and cotton candy to students in
the Pownall Atrium and to business people during an Open House at
the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship.
The Smith MBA Association raised $2,326 for Hurricane Katrina
victims by collecting donations in the Pownall Atrium in Van
Munching Hall. The initiative was headed by two first-year MBA
students, Noah Greenberg and Leslie McDowell.
and second-year MBA students raised money for Save the Children, an
international relief organization, at a “Munch for Relief” luncheon
in Van Munching Hall. More than 20 MBAs took time from their busy
end-of-semester schedule to cook and serve the meal to faculty,
staff and students. With great support from the Smith School
community, the lunch raised $950 in just two hours. Proceeds were
designated for earthquake victims in Pakistan and India.