In a small office in Irving, a group of computer programmers is helping change the way the world responds to disasters.
Headed by former Wisconsin Gov. Scott McCallum, Aidmatrix, a nonprofit foundation, is working to give relief organizations the same technology that big corporations use to manage the flow of supplies.
"I think we first saw the need for this nationally after Katrina, which was a logistics nightmare," McCallum said, on a day when Aidmatrix was busy responding to the Haiti earthquake, flooding in Albania, and managing the movement of food to food banks in dozens of states.
Partnering with major technology companies, Aidmatrix has built an online system that automatically matches needs with donors. It works a little like a wedding registry. Aid groups post the things they need online, such as collapsible water containers or mosquito nets, and the computer links them with companies or individuals offering the supplies or cash to fill the request.
"You can see all the needs coming up from the field, and you can see the offers coming in and the system automatically matches the two," said McCallum.
Once supplies are donated, the system even matches the aid organizations with thousands of transportation companies to help move the supplies.
The technology at work is what corporations such as UPS Inc. call "supply-chain management;" moving goods from the point of production to the point of use in an efficient and orderly way. It's what helps a company such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. quickly locate items in a warehouse and move them quickly to a store in another city where inventory is low.
Aidmatrix said its system is currently being used by the United States Agency for International Development and 70 other relief organizations in Haiti, where an Aidmatrix staffer is on the ground helping coordinate warehousing and logistics. The group said it learns something from each disaster with the goal of making the response quicker and more efficient the next time.
"Will there still be problems? Will there still be issues? Yes," McCallum said. "But this has improved things dramatically."