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Cleaning up the mess

"Cleaning up the mess" Continued...

Issue: "Northern light," Sept. 20, 2008

"It's kind of sad," Larroux said. "In a normal neighborhood, everyone would rally around someone with half their roof blown off. But since Katrina, we slap a blue tarp on it and consider them fine. If you're not duct-taping your refrigerator shut and pitching it out the front door, we consider you to have no damage."

Making relief succeed

A private-public partnership, AidMatrix helps the helpers really help

By Lynn Vincent

Like many Americans following Hurricane Katrina, members of Keith Thode's Grapevine, Texas, church wanted to head down to New Orleans to help. Problem was, they didn't know exactly what kind of help was needed, and no one wanted to create what has been called "the secondary disaster"-herds of well-meaning soccer moms bearing bags of donated clothes when what is needed are chainsaw operators and clean drinking water.

Soon, though, Thode's church learned that 400 storm evacuees had taken refuge in a hotel right in Grapevine. "Instead of piling in trucks and driving down to New Orleans, we were able to go and help those people in a meaningful way," said Thode, Chief Operating Officer of the AidMatrix Foundation Inc., a nonprofit that connects donors, relief workers, and people in need. "It's an example of how information flow can help connect the right resources with the right people at the right time."

AidMatrix builds and operates computer networking hubs that enable private and public donors to post aid offerings, while relief agencies and others, such as local governments, post needs. The foundation is one reason that, in the wake of Hurricane Gustav, more than $20 million in aid has flowed into the Gulf Coast area in a way much more efficient than relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina.

An example of how it works: Following massive flooding in Iowa earlier this year, Habitat for Humanity used the state's AidMatrix to post a need for carpet to replace that in homes ruined in the deluge. A California carpet manufacturer saw the need posted online and pledged a large donation. UPS signed onto AidMatrix and agreed to transport the carpet from California to Iowa. No phone calls, no red tape, and the carpet was in Iowa in less than two weeks.

Founded in 2000, AidMatrix's operations had focused on connecting thousands of corporate and nonprofit partners to deliver various kinds of aid both here and overseas. Disaster relief had been a small part of the operation. But after Katrina, an unprecedented domestic disaster, AidMatrix donated its services.

"Afterwards, FEMA and state government realized they needed this kind of national donations management network," Thode said. "A partnership with FEMA started in late 2006, and we are now in 26 states and territories."

AidMatrix is now a public/private partnership. On the public side, FEMA and state governments contribute grant money. On the private, for example, UPS donated money and experts to develop a dedicated transportation network to ferry aid from donors to relief groups on the ground.

AidMatrix's job, Thode said, "is really to make these other groups as successful as they can be."

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