American Red Cross
“We were tired of monolithic systems that weren’t really flexible. They were hard to use, clunky, and volunteers didn’t want to use them.”
director of Planning and Situational Awareness, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois
Dispatching volunteers with Twilio-powered messaging
Previously, when a disaster struck, a volunteer dispatcher had to run down a call sheet of potential responders one at a time. The dispatcher had to place separate calls to confirm the volunteer was available and en route to the disaster, confirm that he or she arrived, and record the volunteer’s departure from the scene. This process cost valuable time needed for other critical communications. “We want our dispatchers to be able to focus on conversations with the fire departments and volunteers so they can serve people who need help,” says Jim McGowan, director of Planning and Situational Awareness for the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois.
To streamline its emergency dispatch process, the Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois reached out to the Northern California Coastal (San Francisco) chapter, which had built a new Incident Management and Volunteer Scheduling system powered by Twilio. The open-source application is called Disaster Cycle Services Operations, known as DCSOps to volunteers. Jim’s colleague, San Francisco volunteer John Laxson, built DCSOps, integrating Twilio Programmable SMS shortly after launch.
Through the Twilio-powered alert system, dispatchers can send a text message to the volunteers en masse, providing them with pertinent details about the incident. This prevents dispatchers from having to relay the same information multiple times to numerous volunteers, cutting down the dispatch cycle immensely. This system also helped level the playing field for new Red Cross volunteers eager to assist. Using the old system, new volunteers might be passed over in favor of an experienced volunteer. Now with broadcast messaging, everyone has an equal opportunity to volunteer.
“Volunteers really like it. They can schedule themselves, do what they need to do, and communicate effortlessly with our dispatchers,” Jim says.
Once the dispatcher assigns a responder, the responder can check in with a quick text message rather than a phone call. Using keywords like “Enroute” and “Arrived” and other commands, responders keep dispatchers in the loop in an instant. Texting “Maps” gives responders directions to an incident scene, and “Responders” provides the names and phone numbers of fellow volunteers.