Athens State University students develop volunteer database in response to chaos of April 27 tornado outbreak

ROSIE_ROAD_TORNADO_CLEAN_UP_7792479.JPGMembers of Grove Baptist Church joined other volunteers who helped clean up the debris on Rosie Road in Tanner. (The Huntsville Times/File/Michael Mercier)

ATHENS, Alabama – In the wake of the April 27, 2011, tornado outbreak, the volunteer coordinators at the United Way realized they needed a better method of keeping track of crews than index cards.

The local university came to their aid.

Two years later, students in Athens State University’s system design management course have developed a database system to manage volunteers during crisis situations.

“I feel this interesting class project has the potential to be a great asset to the community in times of emergency,” said Dr. Lisa Rich, professor of the systems class. “We divided the class into four teams so we had four different programs to present to the United Way. They chose the one that they felt best fit their needs.”

Kaye McFarlen, director of the United Way of Athens and Limestone County, said coordinators used index cards in the days after seven tornadoes struck the county, later graduating to spread sheets.

“We learned a lot,” she said. “The database allows us to more easily deploy people.”

The student teams developed a system of tracking, placing and organizing volunteers who would report to a volunteer reception center, of VRC, in the event of a disaster. The VRC would then mobilize the volunteers to areas where they are needed throughout the county.

United Way Group(1).jpgStudents in Athens State University’s system design management course developed a database system to help the United Way manage volunteers during crisis situations. From left are, Susie Brookshire, volunteer coordinator of the United Way; Katie Preston, student; Chad Smith, student; Regina Gibson, student; Lisa Rich, ASU professor of information systems; and ASU President Bob Glenn. (Contributed by Athens State University)

The Disaster Volunteer Management program was funded by a grant from Boeing. Susie Brookshire of the United Way acted as project coordinator. 

She evaluated each of the four programs and was available to the students during the creation process for guidance or to answer any questions.

Rich said the project will help the students in the careers, as well.

“This was great training for the students to have hands-on interaction with a client,” she said. “It is invaluable to learn how to listen to customer needs and then create programs that fit them.”

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