NewsImpactHow Blockchain is Transforming Disaster Relief

How Blockchain is Transforming Disaster Relief


Matt Keller, Head of Impact, Algorand Foundation and Kevin Peach, COO, Disaster Services Corporation of the Saint Vincent De Paul Society

Natural and human-made disasters are on the rise in the United States. Following each catastrophe, the federal government, state governments, and private non-profit organizations have rallied to assist the survivors. The system has worked – most of the time – but it can be slow, inefficient, cumbersome, and opaque. Blockchain technology can turn that slowness into speed, that inefficiency into real efficacy, and the cumbersome and opaque procedure through which survivors receive aid into a frictionless, transparent experience. It can save time, money, and lives.

Challenges in disaster relief 

Response time in long-term recovery operations is notoriously slow. Typically, survivors wait months and sometimes years before the right resources arrive in order to fully recover and return to some sense of normalcy. This can occur when there is a lag between emergency assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and long-term housing aid from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Every disaster and community is unique, so the time between a disaster and when Congress appropriates recovery funds is inconsistent. What’s more, the speed with which these funds are then delivered by organizations on the ground fluctuates wildly. 

When government agencies do connect, survivors are often forced to fill out cumbersome forms which take time on both the application and administrative end. Caseworkers have to approve each individual application and then make preparations to send the aid needed. The uniqueness of each disaster requires different responses from different agencies, so this process is often repeated, increasing the amount of time required for relief to be delivered.

The inefficiencies and the unwieldy nature of the process don’t stop at the application stage. Let’s take the example of Saint Vincent De Paul (SVDP) and its “House in a Box” program. Until now, when a disaster hits, one of the first things SVDP would do is go to the place where citizens need relief. It would either rent a warehouse or, in some cases, build one, where basic household items - beds, mattresses, kitchen sets, towels, linens, and so on – would be shipped for storage. SVDP then hires drivers to deliver the goods to the home of the survivor who has been waiting months for delivery. Staff member and volunteer time is precious, yet other organizations will actually have staff members and volunteers stand in line at Walmarts around the country and purchase hundreds of gift cards that are then sent in the mail to the home of survivors. The time required for this kind of relief adds to the delay that survivors face when a disaster takes place. 

Transparency would greatly improve the relief delivery process, yet it remains incredibly opaque. As is the case in the overwhelming majority of disaster response efforts around the world, resources sometimes go unaccounted for, and given the dozens of agencies and NGOs involved, some efforts can be duplicative. 

Solutions in blockchain 

One year ago, Algorand Foundation teamed up with SVDP and National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (NVOAD) to create technology that will dramatically change the way that assistance is delivered. The Foundation invested in AID:Tech, a cutting-edge technology company, to build a wallet for disaster survivors with the objective of changing the way disaster assistance is delivered. The Kare Survivor Wallet, a mobile app, provides survivors with a decentralized digital identity (DID), which allows them to receive and manage relief funds through a wallet management portal.

Once a disaster occurs, relief organizations like SVDP, the American Red Cross, and others can set up a disaster event on the platform and provide a form for collecting information from applicants. A survivor can use the wallet to immediately submit an application to that event, using their DID to fill in the form. The disaster relief organizations then receive the applications on the platform, where they can evaluate them and release funds to the applicant’s wallet. 

Results from recent pilots of the Kare Survivor Wallet have been remarkable. Launched with the Disaster Services Corporation Society in Tennessee and Florida, the wallet has already shown cost savings to be more than 50 percent of direct costs. Money that would have been spent on building or renting warehouses, paying for transportation, and keeping warehouse lights on for long periods of time can now be used for the things that people need most. The time it takes from a survivor requesting aid to that aid being delivered has been decreased by 70 percent. The savings in both time and money is astonishing. 

Hundreds more survivors will be onboarded to the Kare app in Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi through NVOAD and its 120+ partners that are on the ground engaged in disaster relief. These pilots will be done in several places in conjunction with both FEMA and the American Red Cross, the two giants engaged in disaster relief across the United States and its territories. It is their involvement that has the power to usher in a new age of disaster relief in the United States and beyond. 

Saving lives through technology 

Blockchain brings speed, efficiency, and transparency to disaster relief, enabling goods to be delivered to those who need it most when they need it most. For the entire disaster relief industry to change, there must be more awareness around the value of blockchain-enabled delivery from state and local agencies, NGOs, disaster case managers, and ultimately, survivors. Blockchain can benefit all those who are involved up and down the chain of support. Once these benefits are felt by the thousands of individuals and agencies involved in the ever-growing business of disaster relief, the integration of blockchain technology will become indispensable. It will be a change in which the impact will be measured not just in dollars and cents, not just in time gained, but measured in lives saved. 

Learn more about the Kare Survivor Wallet

Find out more about impact and sustainability on Algorand.

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